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How to Write an Apology Letter for Court

When you have plead guilty to a criminal offence in the Local Court one of the factors that the Magistrate takes into account when deciding the appropriate sentence for you is your remorse and contrition: how sorry you feel for what you’ve done.

For that reason it can be helpful to write an apology letter to the Magistrate explaining exactly how you feel, what you have learned and so why you won’t offend again.

When reading an apology letter the Magistrate will be judging the honesty of what you have to say and the level of insight that you have into your offending.

There is a temptation to Google what you should write, and to copy examples from the internet or from friends who have done this before. But Magistrates can tell when the words in your apology letter are not you own, and it might actually make them think that you are not remorseful and have not learned anything, leading them to give you a harsher penalty than if you had shown genuine remorse through your own words.

When you are looking for guidance about how to start or what to write in your apology letter, we recommend that you consider the advice below about what you could cover and what you should avoid when writing your letter. If you are not a confident writer you might like to use the sentence starter suggestions and key words to get you started.

Remember: there is no such thing as a bad apology letter if you have put effort in and been honest and genuine. The Magistrate doesn’t want to see a perfectly written piece, they want to see what you think and feel.

What you could cover

  • How you felt when you were caught by police;
  • What you have learnt from preparing for and going to court;
  • What you have learnt from a Traffic Offenders Program, MERIT, SMART Recovery or some other form of counselling or treatment, including any
  • particular lessons or stories that have had a particular impact on you;
  • Briefly address any impact that possible penalties might have on you and your family;
  • How your offending could have impacted on others (such as Police, emergency services, any victims, your family, society in general, the Court) and how you feel about that;
  • How you felt telling people about your offence and asking them for character references;
  • Why your offence is so serious and how you feel knowing that you have committed it;
  • Why you will not offend again.

What to avoid

  • Trying to justify your actions;
  • Presenting a “case” or argument for leniency;
  • Asking the Magistrate for certain outcomes;
  • Focusing on the impact that the penalty might have on you rather than the seriousness of your offence and how sorry you are;
  • Writing too much: to be effective apology letters should be no more that half a page to a page in length.

Sentence starters

  • When I was arrested I felt…
  • The biggest thing that I learned from the Traffic Offenders Program/MERIT/Smart Recovery/other was…
  • Telling my parents/grandparents/boss/other made me feel…
  • My dad’s reaction to the news was…
  • What I didn’t appreciate but now know is…
  • What I did is illegal because…
  • I feel… about coming to court today.
  • Paying a fine/being disqualified from driving/having a conviction/going to Jail will be hard for me because…
  • I understand that I need to be punished because…
  • The Court can be confident that I will not reoffend because…

Key words

To describe feelings

  • Sorry
  • Remorseful
  • Responsible
  • Ashamed
  • Embarrassed
  • Guilty
  • Grateful
  • Lucky

To describe your offending behaviour

  • Dangerous
  • Risky
  • Offensive
  • Rude
  • Selfish
  • Thoughtless
  • Inappropriate
  • Unacceptable

Image Credit – Alexander Korzhj ©

Written by Janelle Whale on April 19, 2017

Janelle is known for her approachable nature and mature sensitivity to the personal needs of each of her clients, qualities that she acquired through representing the disadvantaged in regional NSW before joining the Armstrong Legal team. View Janelle's profile

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