Launching a Successful Character Reference Letter Campaign for Federal Sentencing: A Strategic Guide 

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How to Write Campaigns for Character Reference Letters


 Title: Launching a Successful Character Reference Letter Campaign for Federal Sentencing: A Strategic Guide

When facing federal sentencing, launching an effective character reference letter campaign can be a pivotal part of your defense strategy. If authorities brought criminal charges, however, some people will resist requests to write a character-reference letter. They don’t want to get involved with the courts.

For this reason, people facing sentencing hearings should launch character-reference letter campaigns early.

I’m Michael Santos. When I was young, authorities arrested me and I faced a lengthy term in federal prison. I didn’t know how to prepare, and as a result, I failed in building an effective sentence-mitigation strategy. I simply didn’t understand the collateral consequences of my conviction. 

While serving 26 years in federal prison, I learned from thousands of other people. We all had one thing in common: regrets that we did not spend time earlier learning how to engineer a sentence-mitigation strategy–including character references.

Understand the Purpose of a Character Reference Letter Campaign

A character reference letter campaign has a purpose. It’s to assist people who can help you persuade the judge that you’re a good candidate for mercy. Those people may have challenges in writing a character reference letter. For example, they may not want to have their name brought into the record of a criminal case. Or, they may not know what to write in a letter. Your campaign should help to resolve those concerns, helping people along the way. Your campaign should show them how to help you best.

Steps to Launch a Successful Campaign

Start Early: Begin planning your campaign as soon as possible. This allows ample time for your contacts to write thoughtful letters and for you to organize them effectively.

Identify Potential Writers: Make a list of people who know you well and can vouch for your character. This list can include friends, family, colleagues, community leaders, or anyone who has had a meaningful interaction with you.

Provide Guidance, Not Scripts: While each letter should be in the writer’s own words, providing them with guidance on what aspects of your character you’d like them to highlight can be helpful. However, avoid giving them scripts, as authenticity is key. And you do not want all letters to sound the same.

Diverse Perspectives: Aim for a variety of letters that cover different facets of your life. This diversity will give the court a well-rounded view of your character.

Explain the Situation: Ensure that each potential writer understands your situation and the importance of their letter in the context of your sentencing.

Crafting the Letter Request

Personalized Requests: Reach out personally, either through a phone call, a face-to-face meeting, or a heartfelt written request.

Provide Context: Share the context of your situation, the role of the letters in your sentencing, and why you believe they would be a good person to write on your behalf.

Offer Assistance: Let them know that you or your attorney are available to answer any questions they might have about the process.

Organizing and Submitting the Letters

Review and Organize: Once you receive the letters, review them with your attorney to organize them effectively.

Timely Submission: Ensure that the letters are submitted in accordance with court deadlines. Your attorney can include them in the sentencing memorandum and highlight key themes during the sentencing.


A character reference letter campaign is a critical component of your sentencing strategy. It requires thoughtful planning, a clear understanding of what makes an impactful letter, and strategic organization. From my personal experience and the stories of many others, I have seen the significant impact these letters can have on federal sentencing outcomes. Approach this campaign with the seriousness and dedication it deserves to maximize its potential benefit in your federal court journey.

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