Effective character references in the ACT will allow the court to understand who you are as a person outside of the crime committed. It can also, in some circumstances, encourage the Judge to deliver a less severe penalty. This applies regardless of whether you have committed a serious assault crime, or a simple traffic/drink driving offence.
Therefore, it is important to know exactly what you can and cannot include in a character reference. Below are general guidelines as to who may act as your referee and what content to include in a reference.
As noted above, your character reference is an opportunity for you to demonstrate to the court why the offence committed was either uncharacteristic of your usual personality, or to show how you have taken steps to rehabilitate yourself. In order to effectively persuade the court of these elements, it is important to choose a referee who knows about your life and the offence committed, and can write a reference that is as detailed as possible.
When choosing a referee, there are no hard and fast rules as to who may write the reference. A referee can be a family member, friend, neighbour or even co-worker. However, for some offences, it may be a good idea to choose an impartial third party to write a reference.
Before you set out to write a character reference, it is important to note the following points. The reference will be delivered in court and therefore, you must respect court etiquette by avoiding the following errors:
- Do not use a reference that is off topic or out-dated
- Do not write a reference longer than a single page, unless completely necessary
- Do not include your legal opinion
- Do not offer an opinion on whether the charge was justified or not
- Do not tell the court how they should penalise the offender
- Do not include details of previous crimes committed unless necessary
- Do not use aggressive or disrespectful language in the reference.
There are various rules in the ACT that must be adhered to for both the structure and content of the character reference. When structuring the reference, it is important to note the following:
- Type the reference on A4 paper, where possible (handwritten references are acceptable provided they are legible)
- The reference should be printed on letterhead if possible
- The reference must refer correctly to the Judge depending on the level of court hearing the case i.e. “the Presiding Magistrate” or “the Presiding Judge”.
When writing the content of the character reference, the court requires that the following points be covered in detail:
- The reference must outline the referees background and whether they are of good standing in the community
- A statement by the referee that they are aware of the offence committed by the offender
- A detailed description (including personal examples) of why the offender is of good character, or details of the offenders rehabilitation
- An outline of any hardships the offender may face if handed down a severe penalty.
No two charges are the same, and therefore, a character reference must appeal to the nature of the crime by including only those characteristics of the offender that relate specifically to the crime committed.
For instance, a drink driving charge will typically centre on the rehabilitation of the offender and steps the offender has taken to ensure that they will not step behind the wheel again whilst intoxicated. A serious assault charge will require details of how the offender is not of a violent nature, how the offence committed was a one-off incident or that the offender is undertaking counselling.
As stated above, any person can provide a character reference. However, in some circumstances (drink driving/ traffic offences) it may be wise to obtain a further reference from an impartial third party. This further reference will demonstrate to the court that somebody outside of your family/friendship circle recognises that you are not a threat to yourself or the community.