Character references are an important tool that can be used to influence the outcome of a court case. This is because the testimony of the people in your life will show the court that you are of good character and are not a threat to yourself or the community. If you ever find yourself charged with a simple drink driving/traffic infringement or a more serious offence such as assault, a well-written reference can assist your case.
In Tasmania, there are various guidelines that must be followed when writing a character reference. Following these guidelines will give you the best chance at demonstrating to the court that you are of good character outside of the offence you have committed. Ultimately, this may in turn result in a more lenient penalty being handed down.
A character reference needs to be detailed enough to include very specific examples of your character and involvement in every day life. Any person may act as your referee as there are no strict rules set by the court in this regard. As such, your family, friends, neighbours, teachers or other members of the community may provide a character reference for you.
As stated above, the Tasmanian court imposes very strict guidelines as to what they will accept a character reference. These guidelines are set out below;
- Aggressive or impolite language is not accepted by the court
- The character reference must not have already been used for another purpose i.e. job applications
- Character references are usually kept to a one page maximum unless it is necessary to provide more information
- The court will not allow the inclusion of any legal advice in a character reference
- The court will not allow any assertions as to the penalty that should be imposed on the offender
When you are organising a character reference, remember that you are presenting the document in court and therefore must observe proper court etiquette at all times.
The character reference should be set out like a letter and must include the following structural qualities;
- The letter should be dated at the top and include the referees personal information
- The reference should be printed on letterhead (handwritten references will only be accepted if clear and legible)
- The letter must be addressed to ‘The Presiding Magistrate’ or ‘The Presiding Judge’ as relevant
- Any further references to the Judge should be ‘Your Honour’
It is important to remember that the character reference should be written in a formal tone but also needs to be written in the voice of the person writing the reference. The following guidelines should be followed by the writer;
- The referee should provide a summary of themselves and include details as to their standing in the community and relationship to the offender.
- An acknowledgement that the referee understands the nature of the charges that have been laid against the offender.
- Including a statement of whether or not the offender is sorry for their offence and/or whether they have completed any counselling/rehabilitation.
- Precise details (including personal experiences) that portray the offender as being of a good character.
In addition to the general content guidelines set out above, it is important to tailor the character reference to discuss the specific issues highlighted by the offence committed.
A character reference for a drink driving offence will need to include details of the offender’s rehabilitation and/or any steps the offender has taken to curb alcohol consumption. When writing a reference for an assault offence, the referee will need to include details that demonstrate to the court that the offender is not usually violent or steps the offender has taken to combat a violent manner.