What is Letters in Support of Sentencing?

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Whether you or a loved one is facing a criminal offense, everyone knows that hiring a criminal attorney with experience matters most. Not only do they know the ins and outs of courtroom, but they often times know the little details that matter most when it comes to both orchestrating your defense, and if necessary, strategizing your acceptance of responsibility when a defense isn’t enough to win at trial. Some may think that once you accept responsibility through plea and/or if you are found guilty at trial, nothing really matters and the judge will do whatever he or she thinks is best regardless of what is said or presented at sentencing. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

When approaching a sentencing, there are many, many tactics a lawyer can use to work the best advantage for their clients. Obviously, the pre-sentence investigation, the defendant’s criminal history, and the facts of the case itself are three of the biggest factors in determining outcomes, what the lawyer does, says, and presents at sentencing can be just as if not more instrumental in getting a good result. That can be the case whether there is an open term to be argued by the parties and/or if the defense and the state have agreed to a set term plea and the judge needs to be persuaded to accept the recommendation of the parties. In most cases of any consequence, an experienced attorney will orchestrate (to the best of their abilities and within the ethical guidelines) live testimony, evidence, and arguments that paint the defendant in the best light. Yet, the one thing that is often overlooked and rarely employed by defense attorneys is the art of the “Letter(s) in Support of Sentencing.”


In any sentencing hearing a good lawyer will present their client in the most idealistic way possible. Nevertheless, judges hear these same lawyers day in and day out saying the same glowing things about their clients such as, “this is a good person that made a bad mistake,” or, “you will never see this defendant again,” and/or “this was a one time thing.” At times, after hearing these same arguments over and over, judges’ eyes start to glaze over and they stop listening intently. As such, defense attorneys need something more. They need to show the court how the defendant is different from everyone else. How they are unique. While this can be done by live testimony, that, too, can be repetitive.

What is a Letter in Support of Sentencing?

The title says it all. A defense attorney can help facilitate, but often the family assists, in gathering letters from people who know the defendant. We at Banks & Brower, LLC, like to break down Letters in Support of Sentencing into three main groups: (1) family, (2) personal friends or acquaintances, and (3) business or non-personal contacts. This allows a well rounded view of the defendant. Obviously, family and friends will almost always say positive things, but non-biased letters are important as well. That can be from bosses or employers, etc. The letters should be made out to “Judge” (not any judge by name because they can change or other judges may hear the case), and should be written in normal letter format. At the end, the letters should be signed. While personal information and contact information can be included, it must be redacted before public filing by the law firm.

What should be in the Letter(s) in Support of Sentencing?

Lets start with what the letters should not contain. First and foremost, and by far the most important, the letters should not in any way address the underlying facts of the case. It does not help for people to editorialize what has already happened. The judge already knows. Rehashing it in letter form is not helpful. Secondly, and almost as importantly, the letters should not in any way make excuses for anything that happened, nor should there be any statements of disbelief such as, “I know Mr. XYZ and there is no way he would or could have committed this crime.” As soon as a judge reads either of these two things above, the judge will stop reading the letter. Rather, the letters only need to focus on the positive things the defendant has done. Be it how they help others, their work ethic, their love of family and friends, etc. It can talk about the good you know they are capable of or the future you believe they have. The whole purpose of the letters is to paint the picture of the defendant outside of the courtroom. Obviously, the judge is going to hear a lot of terrible things about the defendant. Therefore the letters are meant to balance out that picture. It is also OK to recognize and discuss struggles the defendant has had and/or the difficulties incarceration would have on the family. It is also OK to include a paragraph on what you would like to see happen and/or to ask for leniency if appropriate. The key is to keep the tone positive and conciliatory.

In the end, the Letter in Support of Sentencing is one of the strongest ways to enter into a courtroom prepared for sentencing. Why you might ask? Because before anything is said, before a word is spoken at the sentencing hearing, the judge will have already read great things about your client. The hearing will begin with the judge already seeing your client in a more positive light than they otherwise would have. A good and experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will know how important that leverage is. If your lawyer isn’t doing this, you should ask why. After all, don’t you want your lawyer pulling every string they can? Especially with your future and freedom on the line?

Should you or your family need assistance with a criminal matter, contact our Indianapolis Criminal Lawyers today, 24/7/365. 317.870.0019 or info@banksbrower.com.