A character reference is a short statement made by a person close to you with a good reputation in the community. The statement will include details of your personality and character and give the court a better understanding of your personal life. No matter what type of offence you have been charged with, a character reference may give you the opportunity to show the court that you are an honest person, and ultimately, may lead to a lighter sentence.
The Victorian courts require that certain guidelines be met when writing a character reference. These have been set out in detail below.
A character reference can help show the court that the crime committed was a one off event and that you are usually not inclined to commit offences of that nature. As such, it is important that a person who knows you well enough to make this distinction clear to the court writes the reference.
A reference may be written by anybody in the community that you choose. It is not only friends or family that may act as a referee; teachers, current or past employers and other members of the community may also write the reference. If you are undertaking rehabilitation or counselling, you may wish to have the health practitioner overseeing your condition write a reference for you.
As stated above, the court requires that all character references be set out in a formal fashion. This includes having the reference typed and printed on letterhead where possible. Written references will only be accepted if the court can clearly read and understand the contents of the reference. Other structural guidelines include dating and signing the reference, and addressing the reference to the appropriate person i.e. “To the Presiding Judge/Magistrate”. Other references to the Judge should be to “Your Honour”.
The court will not accept any character references that include slanderous or aggressive language to either the offender or the court. Therefore, you must ensure that the character reference is written in a formal and respectful tone. This means that the character reference cannot include any legal opinions or suggestions as to the penalty that should be imposed. The court will also not allow any personal opinions of the referee regarding whether the charge laid on the offender is fair.
The courts in Victoria require that a character reference cover the following points in specific detail;
- The referee must first introduce themselves and provide their personal details, including full name and occupation.
- The referee must explain how they are of good standing in society and explain their relationship to the offender.
- The referee must explain that they are aware of the charge that has been laid against the offender and an acknowledgement that they are aware of how the offender wishes to plead.
- The referee must provide a description of their opinion of the offender’s character, this will include examples of their past interactions with the offender.
- The referee must explain to the court how the offender will be disadvantaged if convicted of the offence committed.
- The referee must also state their opinion regarding whether or not the offence was a one-off incident or whether the offender is receiving medical treatment.
Despite the general guidelines set out above, there is no single way to write your character reference. Each offence carries a different set of elements that will require the referee to draw on different parts of the offender’s character to support the case.
If you have been charged with drink driving or a traffic infringement, the character reference will need to include specific details as to how the offender has rehabilitated himself or herself. The reference will also need to explain to the court that the offender has taken steps to ensure they will not drive after consuming alcohol and they are aware that their actions were incorrect.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence including assault, the character reference will need to focus more on the non-violent character of the offender. If the offence was a one-off incident, the reference will need to explain that the offender is not usually of a violent nature. If the offence is not a one-off incident, the reference will need to explain to the court that the offender is taking steps (counselling, medication) to correct their behaviour so that they are not a threat to the community.