Writing a letter to a judge can be extremely impactful if it is written properly. Whether you are writing as a victim or on behalf of a defendant, it must be written in business-style and in a professional tone in order for the judge to take the letter seriously.
There are a few main reasons someone would need to write a letter to a judge. In many cases, family members or friends will write a letter to a judge before sentencing, to illustrate a defendant’s character. Other times, these letters are written by victims (or their family members) to showcase how the defendant’s actions have been damaging to them.
The letter will express how the person on trial has impacted others — positively or negatively. It will ask for a specific outcome from the judge, whether it is a reduced sentence or maximum sentence.
Another reason someone might write a letter to a judge is regarding custody of a child. Family members and friends of the parents and child may feel obligated to share their experiences with the adult and why or why not they would make a fit parent. Other reasons for writing include a request for an inmate’s early release or a recommendation for someone’s legal status.
In this article, we will discuss how to write a formal letter to a judge, along with the proper format and a sample letter.
How to Write a Professional Letter to a Judge
If writing a letter on behalf of the defendant, talk about the positive aspects of the defendant’s character and explain how the sentence will affect the defendant and his or her family.
A victim can write his or her own victim statement as well, which is quite impactful since he or she is the person most closely affected by the crime. If a family member or friend of the victim writes the letter, include statements regarding how others around the victim have been affected.
Writing in a Professional Tone
The best way to write a letter to a judge is in business style, which is a formal way of structuring your message (outlined below). In addition to following a business-style structure, you should write the letter in a professional tone to ensure the judge will take your letter seriously.
Write in the language you are fluent in, whether or not that is English. This will help you get your ideas across accurately and clearly, rather than writing in a language you are not entirely comfortable with. There will be someone available to the judge to translate your letter.
You do not have to be a professional writer to draft a clear, concise, and accurate letter. However, the best way to write a letter to a judge is to pay very close attention to detail while writing, ensuring you run the letter through a grammar checker (like Grammarly) and spelling checker to remove errors. But remember, grammar and spelling checkers are not foolproof, so proofread your letter a couple of times before finalizing it.
How to Address a Judge in a Letter
Start with the envelope, writing to the judge in this format:
- Honorable Judge [First Name Last Name]
- Judge of [Name of the Court]
- [Mailing Address]
Letter to Judge Format
There is much more to consider than the professional tone — there is a precise and proper format to follow when writing a letter to a judge. If you choose to type the letter on a computer, get it printed on high-quality stationary or card stock, not regular printer paper. If you choose to write the letter by hand, again — use high-quality paper and stay away from lined paper.
As you start writing the contents of the letter, keep everything left-aligned, starting with your information. Follow the order of this format, leaving a space in between each section:
1. Your Information (first thing that goes on the inside of the letter)
- City, state, and zip code
- Telephone number and/or email address
2. The Date
3. The Judge’s Information
- Honorable Judge First Name Last Name
- Judge of Name of the Court
- Mailing Address
4. What the Letter Is Going to Address
- Follow this format — “Re: Sentencing of [First Name Last Name of Defendant], Case No. [XXXXXXX]”
- Dear Judge [Last Name]
Before you write the address on the envelope and on the letter itself, be sure you know the judge’s proper title, whether it is Chief Justice, Justice, Chief Judge, or Judge. If you are unsure, you can look up this information on the Federal Judicial Center website.
After addressing the letter, you will start by clearly stating who you are — your first and last name — as well as your occupation and your state of residence. If you are well known in your community, your family name or place of work might make you more reputable in the eyes of the judge.
Next, express exactly why you are writing. Include the name of the victim or the defendant, how you know the defendant, and why you’re writing on behalf of them. Then, state specifically what you want the outcome to be.
If you are a victim or writing on behalf of one, you can write about how the crime has affected the victim physically, emotionally, or socially. Explain how the victim’s life and the lives around him or her have been changed.
If you are a defendant writing your own letter requesting leniency, you should include in the letter that you accept responsibility and explain what you will do to change your life.
The letter should be no longer than one page.
When signing the letter, you should close out with “Respectfully” or “Sincerely,” followed by both a typed and handwritten signature with your first and last name.
Sample Letter to Judge
Honorable (Name of Judge)
Judge of (Name of Court)
Re: Defendant’s Name, Case Number
Dear Judge (Last Name):
My name is (first and last), and I am a doctor in the state of Nevada. I am writing on behalf of my brother, (defendant) to request that he receives primary custody of his two children, (name and name). The custody hearing is scheduled for (date).
My brother has been an excellent father since both of his children were born, attending every sporting event, maintaining a well-paying, steady job, and taking them to church each week. Through his divorce from his wife, he remained stable and active in his children’s lives, never wavering in his love and support for them. In addition, he has familial support including myself, our parents, and our sister.
Other Considerations When Writing a Letter to a Judge
While we’ve covered the best way to write a letter to a judge, there are some things that are not appropriate to write about, such as evidence for a case. If you have information about a case that has not been presented to the authorities, you are responsible for contacting the police and turning over the evidence.
If you are a victim and need help communicating your story, here is our guide on How to Write a Compelling Victim Impact Statement.
Need More Help With a Legal Matter?
If you or someone you care about is facing the court system, you probably have lots of questions. A local attorney can evaluate your case for free so you can get some answers and peace of mind.