In criminal law, mitigating circumstances are factors that help to lessen the guilt of an offender and encourage the judge to be more lenient in their sentencing.
What are some examples of mitigating circumstances?
There are two types of criminal mitigation: positive mitigation and negative mitigation.
When using positive mitigation, attorneys try to paint a positive, more holistic picture of the defendant. To do so, they may speak of their devotion to family, hard work, or loyalty. This strategy uses the defendant’s positive traits to show that their illegal actions were completely out of character.
Negative mitigation on the other hand attempts to highlight any hardships or difficult circumstances that may have pushed the defendant to commit the crime. For instance, details about growing up in an abusive household or a history of mental illness are examples of mitigating circumstances that may be used to argue a lesser sentence.
Other common mitigating circumstances include:
- The defendant having no prior or significant criminal record
- The defendant playing a minor role in the crime
- The defendant recognizing the error of their ways
- The defendant making restitution to the victim of their crime
- The defendant acting out of necessity
- The defendant having a difficult personal history
- The defendant struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction
How can mitigating factors impact the outcome of a case?
When determining a felony or misdemeanor sentence, judges assess these mitigating factors as well as any aggravating circumstances that arise. In contrast to mitigating circumstances, aggravating circumstances increase the defendant’s culpability and encourage heavier punishments. Some examples include a lack of remorse, a leadership role in the crime, or history of criminal behavior.
If a case’s mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances, the judge is likely to be less aggressive in their ruling. Therefore, outlining the mitigating circumstances behind a crime can become a vital tool when facing severe criminal charges, and in some cases could even be the difference between life and death.
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