Whether you have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence, everyone wants a chance to have his or her side of the story heard. In Queensland, character references are a good way to explain to a judge all of the positive attributes of the accused and gives the court a greater insight into the person’s personal circumstances.
In fact, a well-written and detailed character reference may impact upon the final decision that is made and ultimately, the penalty that is handed down. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what you can and cannot include in a character reference.
In Queensland a character reference is a very effective tool used to persuade a court on the issues surrounding your case. Therefore, when choosing a referee, it is important to choose a person that is close enough to provide both a detailed explanation of your character and the issues presented by the charge. This means that family members, co-workers or friends may write the character reference.
Before writing a character reference, it is important that you are aware of the following points;
- A character reference must be typed
- The reference should include a signature and date
- If possible, the reference should be printed on letterhead
- The reference must be addressed to the appropriate person e.g. “To the Presiding Magistrate”
- Any further references to the Judge in the character reference must start with “Your Honour”
- Be thoughtful when writing about prior offences that the offender has committed
- Do not try to suggest the kind of penalty the offender should receive
- Do not write general statements about the offender, it must be specific
- Do not lie in a character reference as it is a crime to deceive the court
- Do not make formal suggestions or speeches
- Do not be critical of the court or Judge, be courteous at all times
When you are ready to write the character reference, keep in mind the following points;
- Introduce yourself, state your occupation and qualifications and establish that you are of good character.
- Provide an explanation that you are aware of the offence that has been committed by the offender e.g. “X is facing a charge of drink driving and is pleading guilty”.
- Include specific details of the offender’s natural character and details of your relationship with the offender e.g. “X has always been a kind and caring brother, I remember a time when…”
- Include details of the positive traits of the offender’s personality.
- State whether you believe the offence was a one-off incident.
- Include details of any unfavourable consequences the offender will experience as a result of conviction.
However, there is no one standard way that a character reference should be written. A character reference in support of a drink driving offender will not set out the same details as for an assault charge. Below are some of the details that you may provide in your character reference, depending on the nature of the charge.
Typically, a character reference for this type of offence will set out issues relating to drinking. It may explain how the offender is trying to be more responsible with their alcohol consumption, the steps they are taking to ensure the incident does not happen again and/or an acknowledgement that drink driving is incorrect. You may also wish to detail the personal consequences that the offender will experience as a result of losing their licence.
For this type of offence, the character reference may set out details of the offender being of a non-violent nature, how the offender has previously interacted with family/friends and other details that will demonstrate to the court that the offender is not a threat to the community.
For this sort of offence, it is important for the character reference to focus on the rehabilitation of the offender. The reference may detail steps the offender has taken to stop using drugs and whether the offender has family/friends that can act as a support base going forward.
If you have been charged with an offence and are not aware of the intricacies involved with arranging a character reference, a solicitor can assist you to organise an effective and concise reference. You may also wish to seek advice about any court appearances, the penalties and possible defences that are involved with your case.