Sometimes a person who is facing a serious criminal charge may feel afraid and compelled to do “something.” All too often, that urge to do “something” can lead a person to take action that is quite harmful to their case. An example of that that I see from time to time is when a person writes a letter to the judge as their case is pending, apologizing and asking the judge to let them out of jail. Such letters are not helpful, and can prove quite harmful. For that reason, it is wise to avoid writing such a letter to the judge.
The most common situation where a criminal defendant writes a letter to the judge involves a person who is in jail awaiting trial on a charge that could result in a lengthy prison term, and they are unable to come up with the bond money to get out of jail. Despite having been told to not discuss their case with anyone besides their attorney (as virtually every attorney will repeatedly tell their client), some defendants will write a letter to the judge who is presiding over their case. These letters often include admissions of guilt, apologies, promises to stay out of trouble, and a plea for leniency and release on bond.
For those not familiar with the legal system, it may seem like writing such a letter can help. Indeed, if many people think back to when they were children, they may recall that apologizing their parent/grandparent/teacher for a minor infraction and promising not to do it again was often a good idea. However, the judge presiding over a criminal case is not filling the role of a person’s parent/grandparent/teacher. Instead, the judge’s role is that of a neutral person, more like a referee in a football game, there to uphold the rules and make calls as to what happened or didn’t happen. It is simply not within the judge’s authority to take the action that people letters often hope for, and indeed many judges make a point of not reading such letters (but still send a copy to the court file, the prosecution, and the defense attorney).
To be sure, there are times that letters (written in consultation with an attorney) can be useful, such as at the time of sentencing. However, when a person is awaiting trial, writing a letter to the judge will not help. At best, the letter will go unread by the judge, and will be of no help. In a worst-case scenario, the letter will end up being used by the prosecution as evidence against that person.
Tags for this legal blog article: Judge