Each year, the United States releases about 610,000 prisoners from state and federal prisons. Some of these inmates have served their whole sentences, but others may have been released early.
One possibility for these early releases is that the judge received an early release letter and granted that request.
How do you compose a letter to a judge for early release from jail? Are there sample letters to help you know how and what to write? What do other legal correspondences, like child custody and leniency letters, look like?
This article provides a guide on writing a letter to a judge requesting early release from jail and discusses the other types of letters you can write to a judge.
Writing letters is one way to deliver your message to your recipient. If you know someone serving time in prison, you can also consider writing a letter to a judge based on relevant legal issues about the offender.
Learning how to correspond with a judge can help improve your writing skills in a legal setting and make your letter more professional-looking.
If you need to address your letters to a particular prison, LookUpInmate.org’s online inmate search tool can help you look for specific facilities. You can start by jail name, jail type, or state to help narrow your search.
How Do You Write a Letter for Early Release to a Judge?
If you are writing to request an inmate’s early release, the following sections can help you compose the letter.
Consider All Possible Recipients
Ensure to address your pleas to the correct decision-maker. If you are petitioning for someone to be released on parole, the letter you are writing on their behalf should go to the parole board instead of the judge.
Reasons for Early Release
Judges can grant early release to prisoners for circumstances like the following:
- Good behavior during incarceration
- Compassionate release due to terminal illness or other serious health concerns
- Extreme hardship of family members due to the offender’s imprisonment
What to Include in The Letter
When writing an early release letter to a judge, keep the contents concise without omitting the essential details. Clearly state why you believe the defendant should or should not earn early release.
Suppose you request an incarcerated person’s compassionate release due to health concerns. The letter should include the person’s prognosis (expected disease development).
Body of Letter
The body contains the essential details of the defendant’s case. Each sentence should count and must not include unnecessary emotional complaints or pleas about the judge’s initial decision.
Your introduction should state your reason for writing the letter and the results you expect.
For example, you can mention in this paragraph that you are requesting reconsideration for a one-year jail sentence for shoplifting because the defendant is a first-time offender in their last college term.
State the original decision and give two or three compelling reasons why the decision-maker should reconsider the case. You can also mention any lesson learned and promise that the crime will not happen again.
Politely state suggestions of your preferred outcome without sounding demanding or threatening. This paragraph should also contain a one-sentence summary of the letter’s purpose and the result you hope for.
Reconsideration Letter by Third Party
Another person can write a reconsideration letter on someone else’s behalf. For example, a defense attorney can write this letter on behalf of their client.
The judge will likely grant an early release if:
- The original offense was nonviolent
- You displayed good behavior while in custody
- Your release date is near, and you have a place to live
- You have a documented gainful employment waiting
Research early release rulings and opinions before submitting petitions for early release. For more information on such petitions, consult a lawyer for legal advice.
Sample Letters to a Judge
The following sections contain sample letters for various requests to a judge:
Sample Letter to a Judge for Early Release From Jail
Dear Honorable Judge:
I humbly request that you reconsider an early release for Mr. Dodd Simmons, a defendant in the grand theft case number 2023/00001.
Mr. Simmons has served five years in prison and deeply regrets his actions. I request your reconsideration since he has displayed exemplary behavior while incarcerated based on his completed required programs.
Sample Letter to a Judge: Character Reference Before Sentence
Dear Judge Benson:
I am writing this letter on behalf of Mr. Eric Clifford, the defendant in the public intoxication case number 2023/00002.
Mr. Clifford is an outstanding community member who has recently run into some personal challenges in his family and career, causing him to make poor decisions leading to this case.
Regardless of these difficulties, I am confident that through the therapy Mr. Clifford is currently receiving, he will acquire the necessary abilities to prevent a repeat of this unfortunate incident.
Sample Declaration Letter for Child Custody
Dear Judge Matthew:
I am writing this letter to seek custody orders against my husband, Collin, regarding our child, Erica.
Collin and I were married in 2010 and blessed with one child, Erica, born in August 2012. I am seeking primary physical custody and sole legal custody of Erica with alternating weekend visits. I also request the standard child support amount and additional fees for Erica’s school tuition.
Sample Character Reference Letter for Child Custody
Dear Judge Matthew:
I am writing this letter to support Aileen Leslie’s custody requests.
I have known Aileen as a neighbor for eight years and her relationship with her husband, Collin, and daughter, Erica.
Aileen is a loving mother who strives to become a positive influence on her daughter. I fully endorse Aileen Leslie’s motion for sole legal and primary physical custody based on my understanding of her family and her best interests for her daughter.
Sample Letter to a Judge for Leniency
Dear Honorable Judge Benson:
I am writing this letter with great respect to humbly ask for your lenience on behalf of my husband, Mr. Ryan Paisley, the defendant in the public intoxication case number 2023/00002.
My husband is well-known in our neighborhood as a respectable parent and a person of good character. These characteristics make his offense come as a shock to us.
My husband confessed to me about the offense and expressed his strong desire to fix the underlying issues.
Sample Letter Addressed to a Judge to Reduce a Sentence
Dear Judge Matthew:
I am writing to request your reconsideration of my sentence regarding case number 2023/00003.
I am aware of the severity of my offense and deeply regret my actions. I humbly ask for your reconsideration since the entire experience of being arrested and jailed for three years has significantly impacted my family and me.
Instead of serving three years in prison, I will be grateful for an opportunity to participate in community service or any appropriate alternative sentence. Thank you for reconsidering my ruling.
Support Letter Samples
Dear Parole Board:
I am writing to express my support for Mr. Troy Hall’s release. My name is Louise Millard, and I have known Mr. Hall since high school.
After serving more than 25% of his sentence, Mr. Hall has shown remorse for his past crime, completed all required programs and education, and displayed exemplary behavior.
Mr. Troy has a loving and supportive family who needs his support to get by. Please grant parole for Mr. Troy so he can be physically present to support and interact with his family.
Sample Letter to a Judge to Drop Charges or Dismiss a Case
Dear Honorable Judge:
Re: Public intoxication case no. 2023/00004
I am writing this letter to drop my ex-husband’s charges. As the complainant and victim in this case, I request the charges against him be dismissed.
I believe any punishment against him handed by the court will adversely affect our family as he supports our three children and me.
For these reasons, I respectfully request the dismissal of charges against my ex-husband.
Sample Letter Addressed to a Judge on Behalf of Someone
Dear Judge Benson:
Re: Case no. 2023/00005
I’m writing this letter on behalf of Ms. Lori Headley.
My name is Joseph Headley, and I am Lori Headley’s father. Lori has confessed to committing the crime. But because she is our family’s sole breadwinner, my family will lose our only source of financial support if the court sentences her to prison for an extended period.
Because of our family’s financial situation, I humbly request lenience and hope you will consider my request.
Sample Letter Addressed to a Judge for a Friend
Dear Judge Steven:
I humbly write this letter on behalf of Elaine Chelsey, the defendant in the public intoxication case number 2023/00006.
Elaine, a close friend of mine for 20 years, admitted to me the wrong she did and expressed great regret. I understand her emotional and psychological challenges at home and how these issues have overwhelmed her.
Regardless of these challenges, I am confident that Elaine can develop the essential skills to make better judgments by attending therapy so that she does not repeat such a disastrous event.
Sample Reconsideration Letter to a Judge
Dear Honorable Judge:
This letter formally requests to reconsider the sentence for my shoplifting case on March 20, 2023.
The entire experience of being arrested and sentenced to imprisonment for two years has made me reflect on my actions and greatly regret my selfish acts.
Instead of jail time, I would appreciate the opportunity to perform community service or other alternative sentences that you may find acceptable. I sincerely and humbly hope that you reconsider my sentence.
How Do You Write a Letter Addressed to a Judge to Get Out of Jail?
The following guidelines can help you write a letter to a judge to request release from jail:
- Provide your name and the case number or case name, and explain your relationship with the defendant
- Discuss the positive aspects of your connection to the defendant and provide examples
- Explain why the defendant should be released and express your belief that the defendant will no longer commit more offenses
- Sign and date the letter and give copies to the defense and prosecution as needed
Letter to a Judge for Child Custody
Two common letters to a judge for child custody are a declaration letter and a character reference letter.
Declaration Letter to a Judge for Child Custody
This letter is a formal statement of facts presented to a judge by a parent involved in a child custody case. The letter contains the parent’s intent to seek custody orders, demonstrate custody arrangement, and show how they will support the child’s best interests.
Character Reference Letter for Child Custody
This letter presents facts written by a family member, friend, colleague, or anyone connected to the parent, supporting the parent’s custody arrangement requests.
Letter to a Judge for Leniency
This letter is a formal statement of facts presented to a judge and written by an offender or their friend or family explaining why the judge must show mercy or tolerance before sentencing the offender.
The sections below detail tips on how to write a leniency letter for an incarcerated loved one.
How Should You Start a Leniency Letter?
Begin your leniency letter by addressing it to the court. Consider using the name of the judge sentencing the defendant instead of writing “sentencing judge” only. Include a case number so that the judge immediately knows the case you are referring to.
Afterward, include a brief introduction explaining why you are writing the letter. Remember to mention that you are writing on the defendant’s behalf and asking for leniency.
How Should You Introduce Yourself?
Introduce yourself to the judge after the greeting and mention how you are related to the defendant. Consider saying how long you have known the defendant or how often you interact with them to establish credibility.
Do You Include Reasons for Leniency?
You must include the reasons for leniency in your letter so that the trial court or district court can consider modifying the sentence.
Examples of reasons for leniency are:
- The defendant’s role in providing for their family
- Good character values or traits
- The hardships the defendant went through
- Their community service experiences
- Their rehabilitation progress
- The defendant’s completion of therapy or substance abuse classes
Can You Give Examples or Tell a Story?
Consider telling a story or using examples to help give the defendant a favorable image.
For example, if the defendant has significant positive contributions to their community, provide specific details of the defendant’s participation and include stories to serve as examples. Take care not to be overly wordy when providing details.
Should You Provide Your Contact Information?
After closing your letter and signing it, write your contact details, including your full name, email address, and phone number.
Is a Leniency Letter the Same as a Motion to Modify a Sentence?
A leniency letter is submitted before a judge hands the sentence, while a motion for resentencing is given when the court has already convicted and sentenced the defendant. This motion requests the court to do any of the following:
- Reduce the defendant’s jail time
- Relax the conditions of probation
- Allow the offender to be released from custody
How Do You Write a Compassionate Release Letter?
When you write a compassionate release letter, it should include the following details:
- A statement asking for a compassionate release
- The specific provision under which the application is being made
- How the offender has met the criteria for the particular provision
- Other helpful related information, like medical or familial reasons
- The offender’s release plan
How to Write a Professional Letter Addressed to a Judge
The following sections discuss how to compose a professional letter to a judge.
What Is the Best Way to Start a Letter to a Judge?
An advisable way to start your letter to a judge is by addressing them with their specific name instead of using a generic greeting.
How to Address a Judge in Your Letter
Address your letter to the judge in this format:
Honorable [first and last name]
Judge of [name of the court]
Writing in a Professional Tone
Consider writing in the language you are fluent in but keep it professional. Doing so can help get your ideas across clearly and respectfully compared to writing in an unfamiliar language.
Letter to a Judge Format
When formatting your letter, keep everything left-aligned. Follow the order of this template and leave a space in between sections:
Your full name
City, state, and ZIP code
Telephone number or email address, or both
Honorable [judge’s full name]
Judge of [name of the court]
The mailing address of the court
What the letter will address (e.g., case number or defendant’s name)
Other Considerations When Writing a Letter Addressed to a Judge
Some things, like the evidence for a case, may be inappropriate to include when writing to a judge. If you have information crucial for the case but have yet to present those details to the authorities, contact the police and turn over the evidence.
Letter to a Judge: Character Reference
A character reference letter is a formal letter written by family, friends, or anyone who knows the defendant. It is given to a judge before the sentence to help establish the defendant’s character’s credibility and assist the judge in gaining a deeper understanding of the defendant.
Letter Addressed to a Judge to Reduce a Sentence
This letter, also called a reconsideration letter, presents facts written by a person convicted and sentenced to convince a judge to reconsider the decision and reduce the sentence.
Letter to a Judge to Drop Charges
This letter to drop charges contains facts written by a victim or complainant telling the judge to dismiss one or more charges or the entire criminal case against the defendant.
Letter Addressed to a Judge on Behalf of Someone
This letter, written by a person aside from someone involved in a case, requests something from the judge on the involved person’s behalf.
Letter to a Judge for a Friend
A letter to a judge for a friend is written by someone who is a close friend of someone involved in the case requesting something from the judge on the involved person’s behalf.
- Since you asked: How many people are released from each state’s prisons and jails every year?