How to Write a Letter of Reference for a Person Seeking Expungement

by Jayne Thompson

Writing a heartfelt letter of reference can help your friend get a fresh start in life.

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People with criminal records can have a tough time when applying for employment, loans, housing and professional licenses. Even if they have completed all the requirements of their conviction, their past behavior will show up on a background check so that anyone can see it. Expungement is the process of wiping the rap sheet clean so the person can start again with a clean slate. The judge reviewing the case usually wants to see a reference for the person seeking expungement so the court can feel confident that he will not reoffend.

Format Your Expungement Letter

There's no statutory form of expungement letter, so don't worry about making it look right. As long as you testify to the person's good character, the court will accept your letter of reference.

Address your reference letter to the presiding judge of the court where the expungement is being heard, unless you're told to address the letter to a different person. If you're not sure, call the court or ask your friend's attorney. Include your own name, address and telephone number using traditional business letter format so the judge knows how to contact you if she needs to clarify anything. Write the name of the case and case number if you know it. Write the date. Begin the letter with a formal greeting such as "To the Honorable Judge Smith" or "Dear Judge Smith."

Explain Who You Are and Why You're Writing

Anyone can write a letter of reference as long as they can testify to the person's strength of character and the positive steps she is taking in her life. Courts look favorably on letters of recommendation from employers, landlords, counselors, religious leaders and other prominent members of the community, but they will also place weight on letters from friends and family members who have known the person a long time. Give a short summary of how you know the person, how long you have known her and how often you keep in contact. Mention your professional position and qualifications, if any.

Testify to Good Behavior

In the body of the letter, explain why the person seeking expungement is a productive member of society who no longer associates with crime. For example, you might list volunteer or charity work, vocational training, qualifications or employment that the person has undertaken since the crime. Use the charges that your friend is trying to have expunged to guide what you say. For example, if your friend was arrested on a drug charge, explain what he does now to remain sober.

Be as Specific as Possible

The primary focus of a reference letter is to persuade the court that the person is rehabilitated from his crime. Your letter will carry more weight if you give concrete examples. For example, you might say, "For the past year, John Smith has been a hardworking and reliable employee who has never been late, and I've placed him in charge of our accounts department," rather than "John Smith is a reliable employee."

Finishing Up

Proofread the letter carefully; it will be less credible if it contains grammatical and spelling errors. Double-check that the information you have given is true, since misleading the court is an offense in itself. When you're happy with the letter, sign and print your name. Mail or deliver the letter to the recipient. Keep a copy for your records.

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About the Author

A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.