Character letters play a crucial role during the sentencing phase of criminal cases by providing a fuller, more nuanced picture of the defendant beyond the crime. In Kentucky’s legal system, judges—who are responsible for sentencing decisions—consider not just the facts of the case but also the defendant’s criminal history and character letters. The following details the importance, structure, and optimal content for creating effective character letters.

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Role of the Judge in Sentencing

In Kentucky, sentencing decisions are made by the judge who takes a comprehensive view of the case. This not only includes the crime committed but also the defendant’s criminal history. Character letters serve as valuable documents during this phase, potentially influencing the judge’s decision by offering a more holistic perspective on the defendant.

Value of Character Letters


Character letters aim to humanize the defendant by presenting their positive attributes and contributions to society. They can provide insights into the defendant’s character that aren’t part of standard legal arguments, showing the person behind the offense.


These letters can significantly affect the court’s decision and may lead to a more favorable sentence for the defendant. By portraying the defendant in a more positive light, character letters can help in achieving a reduced sentence or considering alternative forms of punishment.

Who Should Write Character Letters

Eligible Writers

Friends, family, colleagues, and others who have a personal relationship with the defendant are ideal candidates to write these letters. Familiarity with the defendant adds credibility and persuasiveness to the narrative.

Professional Relationships

It is essential for the writer to clarify the nature of their relationship with the defendant, whether personal or professional. This context strengthens the credibility of their testimony.

Structure and Content of Character Letters


Writers should start by establishing their credibility. This includes describing their relationship with the defendant, how long they have known the defendant, and why they are considered reliable references.

Personal Stories

Instead of using generic adjectives to describe the defendant, writers should include specific stories and anecdotes that demonstrate the defendant’s positive traits and behavior. Detailed examples are more memorable and impactful than broad descriptions.

Respecting the System

Writers should avoid questioning the jury’s verdict or undermining the legal proceedings. The focus should remain on providing a thorough and honest depiction of the defendant’s character.

Formatting and Submission

Standard Formatting

Letters should preferably be typed on standard 8.5 by 11-inch paper. Handwritten letters might be acceptable only if written by a child. This helps maintain readability and professionalism.

Contact Information

Include the writer’s full name, mailing address, phone number, and email address. This ensures the court can verify the authenticity of the letter if needed.

Addressing the Judge

Character letters should be formally addressed to the judge using titles such as “The Honorable [First Name] [Last Name]” or “Judge [First Name] [Last Name].” Proper salutation conveys respect and adherence to court protocols.

Realistic Expectations

Realistic Requests

While writers can request leniency or a specific type of sentence, these requests should be realistic and appropriate within the legal context. Consulting with the defense attorney can provide guidance on what types of requests are suitable.

Sample Format

Template Guide

A sample letter template can aid potential writers in structuring their letters effectively. The template should guide them through introducing themselves, explaining their relationship to the defendant, detailing specific positive attributes of the defendant through stories, and making a respectful request to the court.

Additional Tips

To enhance the effectiveness of character letters, writers should emphasize personal knowledge and detailed storytelling, respect the judicial process by not querying the defendant’s guilt, and consult legal counsel to ensure alignment with the defense strategy.

By focusing on these elements, character letters can provide a comprehensive understanding of the defendant’s character, contributing positively during the sentencing phase of criminal cases in Kentucky.

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