Writing a letter to a judge can have an important impact on legal proceedings. Whether you are writing a character reference for a defendant, writing a victim statement, or writing a letter to a judge for any other reason, however, the process can be daunting.
Does Writing a Letter to the Judge Work?
Writing a letter to the judge in a legal case can indeed influence the outcome of a case. The letter can offer the judge background information that will help him or her make the best possible decision and, in some cases, such letters can help victims and other affected parties make their voices heard.
When writing a letter to a judge, it is crucial to do so in a formal tone and through official channels. As you write your letter, consider how the tone will be received and ensure that you include all relevant details in a succinct and clear manner.
You may hope for certain outcomes when you pen your letter to a judge, but recognize the fact that the decision will ultimately lie with the judge — all you can do is “share your side”.
How To Write a Professional Letter to a Judge (Step-by-Step)
For many people who set out to write a letter to a judge, this is a high-stakes endeavor. Letters to a judge can indeed influence the outcome, but it is critical to write a coherent and professional letter. Here’s how.
Letter to Judge: What Format Should You Use?
Use a standard business letter format to write a letter to the judge:
- Start with your own name and address.
- Follow this with the date.
- State the judge’s full name, position, and the address of the court.
- Before addressing the judge with a greeting, decide on a subject line — include details about the case, such as the defendant’s name, and where possible, the case number.
- Address the judge with “Dear Judge [last name]”, or substitute another title where relevant.
- The body of your letter follows.
- Finish the letter with a signature. “Yours Sincerely,” followed by your first and last name and, where relevant, your title, is your best choice.
- Print your letter on high-quality paper, left-align it, and use a standard serif font.
Who Should You Write Your Letter to, and Where Should You Send It?
Write directly to the judge overseeing the case you are writing about. If you are not sure, you will usually be able to get this information through any of the parties’ attorneys or through the court’s electronic database. Always send the letter directly to the court, in a formal capacity, or your letter may be seen as an attempt to influence the court unfairly.
How to Properly Address the Judge in a Letter
When writing your envelope, address it to “The Honorable Judge [full name]”. Within the body of the letter, you can address the judge simply as “Judge [last name” or “Your Honor”.
13 Common Reasons When to Write a Letter to a Judge
There are numerous reasons to write a letter to a judge, and the tone will differ slightly in each case.
Child Support and Custody
If you are one of the parental parties in a custody case, a declaration letter to a judge can help the judge gain valuable background information. State why you are seeking primary or sole custody and request child support within guidelines.
Character Reference Letter for Court
Family members and other loves ones frequently write character references on behalf of a defendant. Others who know the defendant well, such as pastors or community leaders, can do the same. It is typically wise not to criticize the legal system. Simply state who you are, how long you have known the defendant, and share relevant information you want the judge to be aware of.
Asking for an Extension
These letters ask for more time to pay a traffic fine or similar penalty. State the reasons for your request, and commit to pay by a certain date.
Defendants can write a letter to the judge before their sentencing, but should always discuss the contents with their defense attorney at length before doing so. These letters typically explain mitigating circumstances and ask for compassion, but they can be used to apologize to victims, too.
For an Inmate
These letters are typically character references, in which people close to the inmate petition the judge for a lighter sentence or early release. In these cases, too, it is prudent to coordinate the letter with the defendant’s attorney.
For Early Release
Whether you are writing on your own behalf or for someone else, explain the grounds for early release — compassionate grounds include terminal illness or other severe health concerns that cannot be managed in jail or prison, and good behavior while incarcerated is another common ground.
Explain mitigating circumstances, express remorse, take full responsibility, and be honest and sincere in your letter.
For Traffic Ticket
If you believe that you were wrongfully given a traffic ticket or your car was stolen and you were not driving it at the time the ticket was issued, you can write a letter to the judge to explain the circumstances. Simply state the facts.
For Case Dismissal
These letters are most likely to be effective if you were the victim and you are asking the judge to dismiss a small case against the perpetrator, such as a previously drug-using neighbor who stole your purse and has since taken steps to get clean.
Such letters are discouraged or outright forbidden in some jurisdictions, while encouraged in some states, so check with your attorney before proceeding. If you do write a letter to a judge, keep it factual but let your love for the child shine through.
To Remove a Restraining Order
If you are the victim, explain why the restraining order is no longer necessary. If you are the defendant, you are highly encouraged to go through the proper legal channels, with the help of an attorney, instead.
To an Immigration Judge
To support someone going through an immigration case, introduce yourself, explain the person’s circumstances to the best of your ability, and describe how the person has been benefiting their wider community. You may do the same on your own behalf, but where possible, discuss the letter with an attorney first.
For Driving Privileges
If your driving privileges were revoked for medical reasons that no longer apply, you can write a letter to the judge explaining your situation. Include relevant evidence. In cases where driving privileges were revoked for irresponsible driving, you will have to show that you are able to be a responsible driver going forward.
Dos & Don’ts When Writing a Letter to a Judge
Before you send your letter — and ideally, even before you begin writing it — it is important to consider the implications of the letter. To increase the chance that the letter will be received in your intended vein:
- Maintain a formal tone and use a business letter format.
- Send the letter to the court; address a carbon copy to the relevant attorneys where needed. A letter to a judge should never be perceived as an attempt to obstruct the course of justice or unfairly influence a judge.
- If you are the defendant, take responsibility for wrongdoing. Regardless of your intent, it is almost always best to refrain from criticizing the legal system.
- Before closing and signing your letter, thank the judge for their time.
- Proofread and edit your letter to a judge multiple times. Ensure that it is completely error-free, and your words cannot be misconstrued.
- If you are at all able to, it is highly recommended to run your letter to a judge by an attorney. This is especially true if you are writing a character reference for an inmate serving a sentence or for a defendant currently on trial.
You will find countless letter templates online, including those that will help you write a letter to a judge. Not all are equally good. Should you decide to consult these templates, remember never to copy/paste them verbatim only to change a few details. Your letter should be honest and authentic.
Can you write a letter to a judge regarding a case?
You may write a victim statement, character reference, or a statement on your own behalf as a defendant. You may not write to a judge to present new evidence; instead, contact law enforcement.
Can you write a letter to a judge after sentencing?
In certain circumstances, such as if you are asking for an extension, writing a letter to a judge after sentencing can have an impact. The sentence will not be overturned in this manner.
How to address a judge in a letter when judge is unknown?
You will usually be able to find the name of the judge online, through the court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system. Once you do, proceed to address the judge by name.
Can you write directly to the judge?
Absolutely not. Do not contact the judge at their home address, via email, or through social media. Exclusively communicate with a judge using the appropriate channels, and assume that your letter will be seen by other relevant parties.
Do character references help in court?
Character references play an important role in court, but hold more weight if they are written by upstanding members of the community.