If a person is found guilty at the end of a criminal trial, the court will be responsible for determining the defendant’s punishment. In general, we find that some state and federal criminal statutes set minimum or maximum penalties based on the classification of the offense. Felonies will have the most serious possible punishments, while misdemeanors will have less serious punishments. Judges do have some discretion when it comes to sentences, and sentencing hearings allow prosecutors and defendants to have a chance to offer evidence for the court to consider when it comes to sentencing. Here, we want to discuss how aggravating and mitigating factors can effect a person’s sentencing.
What are Aggravating Factors When it Comes to Sentencing?
Prosecutors will be responsible for offering evidence of aggravating factors when it comes to sentences. Aggravating factors are presented in an effort to convince a judge or jury to hand down a harsher punishment. Some criminal statutes identify specific factors that could be used to justify harsher punishments.
One common aggravating factor is the existence of a prior criminal record of similar convictions. Other aggravating factors could including:
- Whether or not a weapon was used
- The severity of a victim’s injuries
- Whether or not a person is a repeat offender, regardless of the offense
- The vulnerability of the victim involved (age, disability, etc.)
- Whether or not the defendant played a leadership role in the criminal action
- Whether or not the offense is considered a hate crime (i.e., a crime against individuals of a certain race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.)
What are Mitigating Factors When it Comes to Sentencing?
Mitigating factors are used by the defense to support leniency when it comes to sentences. Criminal statutes typically spend much less time, if any, delving into factors that could result in a less severe punishment. However, the courts have generally held that evidence relating to a defendant’s character can be introduced if the information is relevant to the sentencing process.
There are various types of mitigating factors that defense attorneys can use to support a more lenient sentence, including the following:
- A lack of a prior criminal record
- Showing that the defendant played a minor role in the offense
- The culpability of the alleged victim in the case
- Past circumstances that could have resulted in criminal activity (i.e. physical or sexual abuse)
- Circumstances at the time of the offense, including emotional problems, provocation, or stress that may not excuse the crime but could offer a separate explanation
- Physical or mental illness of the defendant
- Whether or not the defendant is genuinely remorseful
Working With an Attorney
If a criminal case has reached the sentencing phase, then it is crucial to make sure that an attorney does everything they can to help mitigate the severity of the sentence. You can be sure that prosecutors will do anything that they can to push for the maximum punishment possible. However, this is not always in the best interest of the defendant, the victim, or society as a whole. A criminal defense lawyer in Pennsylvania will be able to examine the facts of your case and help provide mitigating factors on your behalf.