What are mitigating factors in sentencing?

When a trial ends in a conviction, that doesn’t mean your defense is over. You can give the court good reason to be lenient with you by providing evidence that serves to reduce the severity of your crime or helps put your actions into perspective. These are called mitigating factors, and they sometimes are enough to sway the court toward mercy. Depending on the offense, that could mean the difference between no jail time and jail time or a few years in jail compared to decades.

What sort of mitigating factors will the court consider?

The judge in your case is free to consider pretty much anything they find relevant to the situation, but here are some of the most common mitigating factors presented:

  • You lack any prior criminal history: The court is more likely to be lenient when you are a first-time offender, since you aren’t repeating a pattern of mistakes.
  • You acted out of desperate need: If you stole money to pay your mother’s medical bills or robbed a store because you were trying to feed your family, the court may have some sympathy for your actions.
  • You have shown genuine remorse and accept responsibility: If you pled guilty and have admitted your role in a crime (and, maybe, even testified against your cohorts), the court will generally take that into account.
  • Your victim played a role in what happened: Maybe you got carried away in a bar fight, but there’s no denying that you were provoked. When the victim wasn’t entirely clean in the situation, that could work in your favor.
  • You were a victim of mental illness: Undiagnosed or untreated mental illness can lead to all kinds of criminal behavior, from embezzlement to assault. If you’ve since been diagnosed and begun treatment, the court will often accept this as a mitigating factor.
  • You’re unlikely to offend again: You may have dozens of friends, family members and professional associates who can help the court understand that your actions were deeply out of character.

These are just a few examples, and every situation is unique – so exactly what serves to mitigate your offense will depend on the total circumstances. Working with an experienced defense team can help you learn more.

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