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What are mitigating factors in criminal sentencing?

On Behalf of | Apr 2, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Mitigating circumstances (also called extenuating circumstances) are often introduced in court with the hope of lessening the sentence of a convicted criminal. The American Psychological Association defines mitigating factors as “a fact relating to a crime or to a convicted defendant that supports the argument for a more lenient sentence.” 

Let’s say, for example, that a young man gets caught stealing food from a convenience store. The owner calls the police and the young man is arrested. When he is questioned, he tells the detective that his family is poor and hungry. He was just trying to feed them. The young man’s lawyer would explain this to the court with the hope of reducing his sentence.

What are some common mitigating factors?

Some of the more common mitigating factors include:

  • Lack of a prior record: When a crime is the defendant’s first offense, that’s often used as mitigation.
  • A minor role in the crime: A bit player in a drug ring, for example, would be less culpable than the ringleader.
  • Unusual circumstance: The defendant may have acted under extreme duress. For example, maybe they were suffering from an undiagnosed mental disorder at the time of the crime.
  • Victim culpability: Two wrongs don’t make a right, but the victim’s actions can sometimes lead to sympathy or understanding from the court.
  • No harm: No crime is truly “victimless” but crimes that don’t leave people injured or destitute are likely to be treated with less severity.
  • Remorse: The defendant regrets their actions and has taken responsibility for their crime.
  • Addiction: People do uncharacteristic things when they’re in the grip of a drug addiction.

There are many mitigating factors that could be considered in court. An experienced legal guide can help you identify them.