For those pleading guilty to a criminal or traffic offence in court, there are several factors the presiding judge or magistrate will consider when deciding on your penalty. These factors usually focus on any previous criminal convictions in your record, the possibility of you conducting the crime again, as well as your remorse for the offending behaviour. Depending on your sincerity in never committing the offence again, you may find detailing this remorse beneficial to changing your sentence.
While you are not expected to speak directly with the judge or magistrate if you have hired a lawyer for your plea hearing, a letter of apology can help your case. The apology letter should include how you feel about the offence and the necessity to make an appearance at court, what you have learned from your conviction, and why you will not offend again.
This article will detail what should be covered by an apology letter and how to write one. We will also cover some common questions around what to avoid when writing the letter, as well as how long it should be.
What is an Apology Letter to the Court?
An apology court letter is a one page typed up apology addressed to the presiding magistrate or judge where your court case is to be held. By writing apology letters, those found guilty for an offence can showcase that they are truly sorry for what they have done. The letter should be sincere and personalised, as a judge will only be convinced by genuine emotion.
The degree in which the letter will alter your final sentence does not only extend to the sincerity you display, but also the severity of your actions. For example, a minor case of larceny may be easy to appeal through an apology, especially if you have not been found guilty of this criminal act before. However, a more severe case of robbery will make it far more difficult for the judge to find you sympathetic without a good cause.
It is important to submit one of these letters before your court date. This is because the purpose of one of these letters is changing your sentence, which can be done if the judge finds you displaying both sincere remorse and the intent to never perform the offence again.
How to Structure a Court Apology Letter
When writing an apology letter, it is important that you write your own. This means that while other letters can be used for a reference, you should write something to show you personally accept responsibility for your actions. Using others’ drafts may make your apology seem impersonal and insincere, which the judge may not approve of.
Otherwise, your letter of apology should be structured as:
- State why you are writing the letter.
- Say something personal and positive about yourself and your life.
- Accept full responsibility for your actions.
- Discuss your arrest and how you felt about it.
- Explain the steps you have taken since your criminal act to address your issues and the community harm you created; anger management classes, community service, talked to a psychologist/therapist, etc.
- Indicate how your behaviour will change in the future.
How to Draft a Court Apology Letter
When you draft a letter, it is important that you do so in a manner that is acceptable to the judge or magistrate reading it. In Australia, you are expected to write a court apology letter in line with the following stipulations:
- The letter should be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate/Judge” or “Your Honour”.
- It should be only one typed page long.
- Signed and dated.
- Written yourself.
What to Include in a Letter of Apology to the Court
When you are considering what to include in your letter to the court, the apology itself should be your main focus. While you do not need to be a perfect writer or grammatically correct, you should write in your own words why you believe your actions to be a foolish criminal act that you are feeling remorse for.
To write the most effective letter of apology to the court, you should include:
- A direct appeal for why you are sorry and who you need to apologise to.
- Explanations, not excuses.
- The facts about your crime without trying to paint yourself in a more favourable light or lessening the seriousness of it.
- Show awareness and remorse for the affects your offence has had on victims, the police or the community; psychological or physical harm, as well as the stress from dealing with police, lawyers or court.
- Outline what you have learned from your conviction and how you will never do it again.
- The steps you have taken to prevent yourself from offending again.
How to Start a Court Apology Letter
The starting sentences of your letter should be straightforward and clearly state your thoughts and feelings on the matter. You can use sentences like:
- I am writing this apology letter to explain how much I regret my actions and…
- I will ensure to never repeat my behaviour…
- I understand that my actions have caused/could have caused…
- I am accepting responsibility for…
- The seriousness of my offence is obvious…
- What I have learned from [insert community or personal program] is…
- I will never perform such behaviour again…
Although these are common examples of how others have started their letters, it is best to come up with your own words. As long as these words politely and effectively communicate to the judge remorse for your actions, there is no wrong way to begin starting your apology letter.
What to Avoid in a Court Apology Letter
Just as there are integral aspects to include in your apology letter, there are also things to avoid. These include:
- Blaming the victim(s), police, or any other parties for the offence(s) committed or how they acted in relation to it.
- Telling the judge or magistrate what to do when it comes to your sentence, including asking to lessen it or indicating what penalty you think you deserve.
- Focusing only on yourself and your difficulties following the offence.
- Avoiding taking responsibility for your behaviour and choosing not to plead guilty.
- Copying other people’s apology letters.
- Submitting for leniency; this can be done separately from your apology.
Tailoring the Court Apology Letter to Different Circumstances
With personalisation being so integral to writing a good apology letter, you must remember to tailor the letter for your specific criminal conviction. This means writing a letter that focuses on the effects of whatever dangerous conduct you performed, and how you will be taking steps to avoid committing said crime again.
In the case of there being a particular victim, or victims, of the crime, you should focus the letter on how these individuals have been impacted. In contrast, overall socially harmful offences, like drugs, should discuss the societal implications of your actions.
By providing information on your specific circumstances and their consequences, you will indicate to the court that you have put plenty of time and thought into understanding your actions.
How to Write an Apology Letter to Court for Assault
In the case of you apologising for committing the crime of assault, there are some additional pieces of information you must include beyond that needed for a regular apology letter to court. This includes tailoring your apology for the specific crime you have committed and its severity, which is crucial in cases like sexual assault.
Otherwise, after discussing your offence, your remorse for performing such an action, as well as promising to never do it again, you should also add in:
- Your employment situation.
- Your personal commitments and circumstances.
- The impact a criminal conviction will have on your life and employment.
- Any contributions you have made to the community or charities. Not to be confused with character references, which can be submitted as its own document alongside your apology.
- Any physical or mental health problems you have.
- The rehabilitation measures you have taken since your conviction.
- How treatment is going if you have entered a program or therapy, including how often you go to a session and its success.
- If you have required treatment before, as well as if you intend to continue with your current treatment.
Your letter should always be topped with the date, the name of the presiding judge/magistrate, and the name of the relevant court. You should also start off the letter by addressing the judge or magistrate as “Your Honour”.
The letter should then be finalised with your name and signature.
How to Write an Apology Letter to Court for a Traffic Offence
Traffic offences can range from running a red light to drink driving, with each offence requiring its own sentence. However, with the help of an apology letter, you may find your sentence changing for the better if it is successfully written.
When writing an apology letter for a traffic offence, you will follow some of the similar cues, as well as the overall structure, that an assault letter must also follow. This usually includes outlining the consequences of the conviction and how it may affect your employment or livelihood. With traffic offences, however, you should also indicate how the loss of a driver’s licence will also affect those around you due to existing commitments or circumstances.
The loss of a licence may also mean your job coming under jeopardy as you are required to drive for it. When writing a letter, make sure to include the losses you and your employer will experience when you are unable to drive, as well as the remorse you feel around causing the offence and its lasting impacts. This way, you will show the court sincerity.
How Long Should an Apology Letter to the Judge Be?
The letter should only be around one page in length, except for the cases in which the offence itself is complicated or severe. You will generally have to write a longer letter when there is a specific set of circumstances, like jail time being the potential punishment, or your case is being dealt with by the District Court.
What LY Lawyers Can Do For You
At LY Lawyers, our criminal lawyers have compiled a full list of information on criminal and traffic offences for your perusal. With our help, you can get a clear picture on what your criminal conviction means for you and your livelihood, providing the foundation for your court apology letter.
If you have any questions about the offences you have been charged with, you can contact our solicitors for advice by phone on our 24 hour phone line, make a website enquiry directly to our office, or post a question on our forum.