Tips for Writing a Letter to a Judge

By Matt Smolsky , last updated July 2, 2011

When you're faced with the daunting task of writing a letter to a judge, you want to do it right. After all, you're likely making a major request or inquiry that impacts your life or the life of someone you love. Judges are used to reading proper grammar, syntax and well thought-out arguments. While your letter shouldn't resemble a legal brief, it should be clear, well written and to the point. Here's how to write a letter to a judge. Your letter can be more than one page, but try not to go over three pages.

Basic Structure

If you have a letterhead, go ahead and use it. If not, you can mimic one by typing your full name and address in the upper left hand corner of the page. You can use Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss if you like, but it's not necessary.

The date should follow your name and address. Leave an extra space between your the last line of your address and the date. Spell out the month, give the date, and then the full year. It should look like this: November 21, 2011.

Now you're ready to address the judge. It should always follow this format "The Honorable [First Name, Middle Initial and Last Name], Judge United States District Court." The judge’s name and the court will vary. Include the judge’s court address.

Include a line that says, "RE: [Name of Defendant]. This will help the judge quickly identify the nature of the letter.

Leave a space and address the judge a Dear Judge [Last Name] followed by a comma and a space.

Body of Letter

Now, you're ready to write your letter. Be sure to clearly identify yourself and your relationship to the person on whose behalf you're writing the letter. If this is regarding a divorce decree or child custody/support, make that clear as well.

If you're writing on behalf of a friend on a pending case, you'd be wise to first get the friend's permission, and then speak to your friend's lawyer. Communicating directly with a judge could be prejudicial to your friend's interests. Anything you say may be introduced as testimony.

Be sure to let the judge know you understand the charges the defendant is facing, or has been convicted of. Do not try to interpret the charges, or dispute the validity of the case. You're not trying to change the judge’s mind. Instead, you're giving him or her information about the defendant. This applies to letters that don't involve a defendant as well.

If your letter is for sentencing leniency, indicate that you realize the defendant broke the law. Let the judge know that the guilty person is now taking responsibility for their actions. Say a few words about your thoughts on whether or not the person will break the law again in the future. It's acceptable to talk about past difficulties the defendant has faced. Did they grow up in an abusive environment? Was there a head injury that changed their behavior to criminal, or have they been battling a drug or alcohol addiction? These are difficult matters to write about. The defendant's lawyer should be able to give you guidance.

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