How To Write A Character Reference Letter

A character reference letter can sometimes make the difference between a favorable and unfavorable resolution in a criminal case. You see, Prosecutors like to have documentary evidence justifying a reduction or dismissal in case the District Attorney reviews the file of they are called out on the case at a future date. The letters, if well written can also assist the lawyer in humanizing the client and making a DA feel good about offering a great deal or dropping the charges completely.

So, how to you go about writing a character reference letter and what information is important to include in the body of the document. The following is a sample of what the letter should contain:

Honorable Judge of the Superior Court
Or, “To Whom It May Concern”
(in cases where you do not want the writer to know about the nature of the case)

​Re:​(The client’s Name)

Your Honor or To Whom it May Concern:

​(Give a brief statement concerning yourself; for example, your occupation, experience, training, education, or other facts that may have some impact on your opinion as it relates to (the person for whom you are writing the letter).

​(Tell us how long you have known (the person in question) and under what circumstances; for example, friend, relative, neighbor, fellow worker, etc.)

​(Tell us your opinion as to what kind of a person he/ she is. Give specific examples of actions or conduct that show (the person in question’s) good character, responsibility, motivation, community service, church activities, military service, concern for others, or any other conduct that may be relevant.). It is important to focus in on specific character traits that may relate to the case.  For example, in a theft case the writer may want to provide detail about how honest or trustworthy a person has been.  In a domestic violence case the writer should provide detail and examples of how peaceful and non-violent the person is.  In a DUI case the writer may include information about how the person is generally responsible when drinking and always uses a designated diver when he or she had too much to drink.

​(State whether you feel (the person in question) is a law-abiding productive person and whether this alleged act was a result of unusual circumstances and out of character for him/her.) (optional)

​(State the likely effect of jail or imprisonment on (the person in question) and his/her family.) (this is optional)

​(State any adverse consequences a criminal conviction may have on (the person in question’s employment, family, friends, and acquaintances.) (this is optional)

Sign the letter​​​​​​​ here
​​​​​​​(Your Name Printed)
Your Address and phone number

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The Importance Of Background Information In a Criminal Case

A criminal prosecution is typically based solely on police reports and any background checks the District Attorney may conduct. What is often left out is the “human story” behind a particular case. Police do a great job of writing about the bad in a given investigation and fail to present any personal information about the accused which may tend to “humanize” the case and be favorable to the outcome of the matter.

To be effective representing our client’s interests, we would like to know as much about our client as possible. To that end, we request our clients prepare a “social history”. We need to know where they were born, went to school, their occupational background and any ramifications a conviction will cause to their current or prospective job, something about their family, religious affiliations, any military service, charitable organizations they belong to, any awards or commendations they may have obtained, prior criminal history and anything else they can tell us about themselves that will enable us to know them better. My firm would also need to know if they have any prior or current medical condition or mental illness. The social history allows us to better know our client and thus give our attorneys more credibility in court when we can demonstrate our knowledge of our client’s background.

Many people may also have a professional Resume that they have used for employment, if so, include this along with the social history.

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The Effect Of An Expungement Of A Criminal Conviction

In California the law permits offenders to have there conviction expunged if they satisfy probation and have stayed out of trouble. An expungement is available for those who have completed probation, or if no probation was granted, after the lapse of one year from the date of sentence a petition may be filed under Penal Code 1203.4. The Court may also grant a dismissal in the interests of justice. What can a person expect if the petition of expungement under 1203.4 is granted?

First, under most circumstances, private employers cannot ask you about any convictions dismissed under PC 1203.4. Therefore, you generally do not have to disclose a conviction if it was dismissed or expunged under this section. What about applications for government employment or a governmental license? In theses cases, you must respond that yes you were convicted but the conviction was later dismissed. A proper response may be “Yes-Conviction Dismissed”. In California, government employers and licensing agencies (except for police agencies and concessionaire licensing boards) will generally treat you the same as if you had never been convicted of a crime.

What an expungement will not do: Your dismissed conviction can still be used to increase punishment in future cases. Further , the prior can still affect your driving privilege. The conviction will remain on your DMV record for points and priorability.

If you were ordered to register as a sex offender, you must make a different request to eliminate the sex offender registration requirement under section 290.

The expungement does not restore gun ownership rights as a general rule.

The expungement does not seal your record, the court records will remain accessible as a public record. The conviction may also prohibit you from holding public office if you were barred as a result of the original conviction.

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The Importance Of a Character Witnesses In A Criminal Case

Most people never have the misfortune of being arrested and charged with a crime but for those that do there is a big misperception about how the system actually works. When the District Attorney sees a case he or she views the person from the standpoint that they are like every other criminal they have seen and fail to see the individual as an average person, their neighbor, co-worker, etc. As a defense lawyer it is my job to “humanize” my client to allow the prosecutor to see him or her as a person deserving of a break or second chance. Therefore, in nearly every case it is important for our clients to provide us with a list of character references. This is vital to your case. We need to be able to learn more about you from those that know you very well. In this way we can prepare for court and can best present you as a “good person” who deserves the courts utmost consideration in evaluating your credibility and whether you are entitled to some leniency or a dismissal of the case, when appropriate. A list of between 3 and 20 persons who know you and can provide us information about you that is positive in nature. We need the names, addresses and home, work and cell phone numbers of these persons (when available). We need to know what they do for a living and how long they have known you.

In many cases it is helpful for the character witness to provide a written account of your good character via a “character witness letter”. In the letter we need to know how well they know you and in what context. The letter should include as many accounts of “good deeds” as is possible. Also, the letter should speak directly to the traits at issue in the case. For example, if the case is domestic violence the letter should contain a testament to you as a peaceful non-violent person. Almost every case involves honesty so that should also be referenced whenever possible.

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When Will California Legalise Marijuana For Recreational Use?

Visit surrounding states such as Colorado and you can walk into a pot shop and buy up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational use, no doctor’s recommendation required. For those who remember pot from the 70’s, today’s marijuana is 10 times stronger. Many main stream business people are changing jobs to get into the pot business. Cutting edge technology produce, cultivate and package marijuana for sale in states such as Colorado. It’s big business and is generating millions of dollars of tex dollars for the government.

At the federal level, law enforcement is watching carefully. Many states are regulating the production with a watchful eye. Some states track the buds from the seedling to the bag. Many police agencies believe that legal states are allowing growers to transport pot to other non-legal states, and those states are suing to stop the practice.

Legal states are trying to balance the fact that it may impact border states. They know they are under the microscope and know that some are overdosing on edibles and the amount of THC and how they are packaged and sold. Many law-makers are encouraged by the “green experiment” in their communities.

The sales of marijuana is creating jobs in security, real estate, manufacturing and many others. The critics are asking, at what price? The crime rates are in question and the business is cash based which will inevitably attract the crime underground and gangs, say the pundits.

What do you think, let us know your comments.

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How To Prepare For A Court Appearance

Preparing for an appearance in Court can be very stressful. Knowing what to expect will help relieve some of your anxiety and help you to relax and ease your mind. First, you must understand that most Court appearances are in a Courtroom where they conduct a general calendar, this means that there will likely be dozens of other similar cases set to be heard on the same day and therefore the Courtroom will likely be filled with other people waiting for their cases to be heard as well.

What time should I be there? Most criminal case courtrooms open their doors at 8:30 am but this does not necessarily mean that your case will be called right at 8:30. In fact, when you have a private attorney the clerks will not even pull the file until the lawyer arrives, at which time both sides (The Prosecutor and Defense Counsel) will confer and agree that the matter is “ready” to be called at which time the file will be put up on the bench for the Judge to call the matter. Therefore, should you arrive early, check in with the bailiff then take a seat and wait for your attorney to arrive.

What should I wear? Treat the Court appearance as you would a job interview. Wear clothes that show respect for the proceedings, business casual or suit and tie are preferred, however, you should not go out and buy new clothes for the appearance. Nice, clean, pressed slacks and a collared shirt is acceptable. Avoid, wearing short pants, flip-flops, T-shirts with offensive logos, etc. Nothing flashy.

What should I bring to the Court? Make sure you have any Court-Ordered proof of attendance documents such as AA meetings, classes or counseling that you were ordered to attend prior to the Court date. Also, bring any character reference letters, social history or background information the attorney may have asked you to prepare.

Who should I bring with me? Do not bring any children or young kids who will be disruptive to the proceedings, unless you are specifically told otherwise. Your spouse may accompany you as well as any character witnesses or support persons your lawyer has approved in advance.

When the case is called you will walk with the attorney towards the Judge’s bench and stand unless you are told to sit. Do not say anything unless you are specifically addressed by the Judge or myself. The lawyer will do the talking so you can relax. Do not make any facial gestures or react in any way to any statements made by the prosecutor. Remain dignified at all times.

You should be aware that most Courts have strict security procedures which include metal detectors at the entrance to the building. As such, you should avoid carrying any pocket knives, nail files, scissors and the like. Parking in most Courts is in a private lot which charges a fee so be sure to bring cash for parking, usually between $10-20 dollars. Some Courts such as Torrance has free parking but allow an extra 5-10 minutes to walk from the lot to the Courthouse, be mindful of any limits on the time allowed to park, some streets only allow 2 hour parking so be sure to plan accordingly. Most Court sessions last all morning, between 8-12 noon.

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California Court Holds Taking DNA Unconstitutional

California criminal statutes have long allowed for the collection of DNA from those convicted of felony offenses, taking DNA from suspects accused of felony crimes is a fairly recent procedure, this week a CA appeals court stepped in to put an end to this practice? The facts of the case is as follows:

Appellant was arrested after setting a police car on fire. While confined in county jail and prior to any appearance before a judge, he refused to provide a DNA sample as required by the California DNA Act. A jury convicted him of felony offenses related to the arson and refusal or failure to provide a DNA specimen. An appeal followed. In a previous opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the seizure of a person’s DNA shortly after arrest violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizures and reversed appellant’s conviction for failure to provide a DNA specimen. The California Supreme Court granted review and remanded the case with directions to vacate the prior decision and reconsider the matter in light of Maryland v. King (2013) __ U.S. __ [133 S.Ct. 1958] [rejecting Fourth Amendment challenge to a Maryland statute requiring collection of DNA from arrestees charged with “serious crimes”].

Held: Conviction reversed. Like the Fourth Amendment, article I, section 13 of the California Constitution protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, it provides greater protection of an arrestee’s privacy interests than the Fourth Amendment. The court here found that the arrestee provisions of the DNA Act are invalid under the California Constitution because the governmental interest in DNA testing at this early stage does not outweigh arrestees’ reasonable expectation of privacy in their DNA information. The Act allows DNA to be collected from arrestees who will never be charged or convicted of any crime and places the burden on the arrestee to pursue an onerous expungement process that is unreviewable. The DNA Act also intrudes upon the privacy interests of individuals who have not had contact with law enforcement because it does not prohibit familial searching, which uses an individual’s DNA profile and a profile in the DNA database to implicate a close biological relative as a possible suspect. (Courtesy CCAP)

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