Serving the Southern District of Indiana

Guidelines for Letters of Support

So you want to write a letter of support for a friend, family member, or loved one for their sentencing hearing.  These letters are a very important part of the sentencing process because they help the judge get to know the person they are sentencing in ways other than just the facts of the offense.  In our district, all of the judges read all of the letters submitted and frequently comment upon them before they sentence the defendant.  Here are some guidelines to help you as you write a letter of support:

  • The letter should be addressed to the Judge, but mailed to the defendant's attorney. The defendant's attorney will make sure the letters get filed in an appropriate manner with the judge.

  • Who are you? Introduce yourself to the court. Explain how you know (and how long you have known) the defendant. 

  • Make it personal.  Detail the defendant's positive characteristics.  Give specific examples about good deeds done by the defendant (honesty, hard work, dedication to family/church/community, generosity, etc).  

  • Only talk about what you know.  Limit yourself to things for which you have personal knowledge. 

  • Be positive, but be truthful.  Make it clear that you know why the person is in court.  If you are writing a letter of support for sentencing, guilt has already been decided, in many instances because the defendant plead guilty.  There is no need to discuss in any detail the facts of the offense.

  • Never attack the victims or law enforcement.  This just doesn't help. 

  • Never allow the defendant to write the letter for you.  The court may contact you to verify that you wrote the words in your letter. 

  • If appropriate, detail how you will be part of the defendant’s support system following sentencing.  Research shows that defendants with strong systems of support have a better likelihood for successful rehabilitation.

  • Be concise.  Be Sincere.  One page is sufficient.  

  • If you have questions about what to include or not include, contact the lawyer handling the case.

  • Always sign and date the letter, and provide contact information. 

Need more help?  IFCD has Sentencing Resources that can provide assistance.