What Are Mitigating Factors in Criminal Sentencing?
Judges are obligated to consider all information in a conviction before sentencing in criminal cases. Prosecutors present evidence of aggravating factors to support tough penalties. Defense attorneys offer mitigating circumstances to persuade the court to be lenient and lessen the sentence.
With more than 25 years’ experience in the criminal justice system, Clinton J. Roberts & Associates worked on hundreds of cases. Here are examples of defendant mitigating factors that may be considered by the court—
- Criminal conduct atypical and outside the heartland of the sentencing guidelines. Examples are—
- no prior criminal record
- committed offense to aid a family member in financial stress or health issues
- committed the crime to aid themselves for health reasons
- theft of money to support substance use triggered by a mental health disorder
- Is an addict who delivered small quantities of drugs to support the habit and not a director or manager of the offense
- Behavior was considered “aberrant” – no previous similar conduct and “outside” defendant’s true character
- Behavior did not result in harm to another – perceived to be “lesser harm”
- Suffered “extraordinary physical or sexual harm” as a child
- Was exposed to domestic abuse such as “battered woman syndrome”
- Was a “survivor” of a tragedy that led to mental health problems. For example, defendant served in the military and was involved in combat and now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- Background suggests that they are unlikely to re-offend
- Was a youth or of immature mental age. Brain development reflected in young person resulted in impulsivity, recklessness that would otherwise not be the case in older persons’ whose brains have fully developed
- Excellent employment history
- “Super” acceptance of responsibility and substantial efforts at rehabilitation
- Defendant exhibits extreme remorse
- Post offense rehabilitation – defendant entered into treatment for mental health issues and substance use problems, etc.
- Post offense restitution – defendant paid back money taken from the victim
- Cooperation with law enforcement to prosecute others
- Extraordinary family situations or family responsibilities such as a single parent with dependent children, the sole support of family, and family member infirm requiring defendant to remain in the community
- Good deeds like community service and helping those who are disadvantaged
- A diminished capacity such as mental retardation
- Gambling disorder
- Is vulnerable to abuse if sentenced to prison. For example, the defendant is gay or was a member of law enforcement
- Cultural heritage issues such as defendant being from a foreign country where behavior arrested for was culturally accepted
- Extraordinary military service and extraordinary conduct in combat
- Immigration issues where the defendant would be deported if sentenced to a term of incarceration and could face harsh treatment in the country of origin
- Good deeds in church, community service, extraordinary efforts saving the lives of others
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