What Is The Difference Between Aggravating and Mitigating Factors?
When people in Pennsylvania are found guilty of crimes, judges will need to determine what sentences are appropriate.
What Is The Difference Between Aggravating and Mitigating Factors? The determination of sentences for people convicted of crimes will depend on multiple factors. Judges analyze the various factors with which they have been presented to determine the sentences that they hand down to convicted defendants. If you are facing criminal charges in West Chester or the surrounding area, an experienced attorney at DiCindio Law can explain the sentencing range that may apply if you are convicted as charged.
What governs sentences?
State statutes and the constitution govern sentences. Under the Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishments, excessive fines, and excessive bail are all unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment applies to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. In federal court, there are multiple federal statutes and federal sentencing guidelines that control sentencing. In state criminal courts, state statutes and constitutions govern the sentencing procedures. The statutes often contain sentencing ranges for different types of criminal offenses that range from mitigated sentences to aggravated sentences.
What are aggravating and mitigating circumstances?
Most criminal offenses are defined in statutes or constitutions. The laws that identify the various crimes will also list the proper punishment. For example, a law might explain that a violation is a misdemeanor or felony and list a fine or jail sentence. The punishments are typically listed as ranges up to a maximum. When someone is convicted of committing a crime, the judge will consider specific aggravating or mitigating factors to decide the sentence that he or she should hand down. Mitigating factors are extenuating circumstances that might lead to a reduced sentence. Aggravating factors are circumstances that increase the defendant's culpability and could lead to an enhanced or maximum sentence.
Some of the common types of factors that judges consider include:
- Whether the defendant has prior convictions
- Whether the defendant was an accessory or the primary offender
- Whether the defendant acted under great stress or duress
- Whether the defendant's actions hurt someone
- Whether the defendant acted in a particularly cruel, destructive, or vindictive manner
- Whether the defendant is genuinely remorseful
If a defendant is found guilty of a criminal offense following a trial, the judge will determine what the defendant's punishment should be. Criminal statutes will set maximum sentences based on the classification of the offense. Felonies carry the most serious penalties. Judges have a degree of discretion regarding sentencing. At a sentencing hearing, the defendant and the prosecutor will have the chance to offer evidence for the judge to consider.
At sentencing hearings, the prosecutors can present evidence of aggravating circumstances that could result in a harsher sentence. Some statutes list specific aggravating factors that judges can consider. One type of aggravating factor that judges commonly consider is if a person has a record of committing similar crimes in the past. Other aggravating factors might relate to how the crime was committed, including using a weapon or the seriousness of the victim's injuries.
Repeat offenses can result in harsher penalties. In Pennsylvania, there is a three-strikes law for violent offenses. Judges may impose harsher sentences when the victims are vulnerable, such as a crime of violence against an older person or a child. Other types of vulnerable victims might include people who suffer from physical or mental disabilities or who are incapacitated. Defendants who were in positions of authority over their victims may receive harsher sentences. Crimes against vulnerable victims and those committed by people in positions of authority are often classified as more serious offenses under the state's laws.
Hate crimes are crimes that occur because the defendants were motivated by animus or bias based on the victims' protected characteristics, including religion, race, national origin, and others. Crimes that are motivated by hate and bias may be punished more severely.
Mandatory minimum sentences are common for many types of crimes, including DUIs. These are sentences that the legislature has determined that judges must impose at a minimum for a conviction. A judge can sentence you to the mandatory minimum but cannot sentence you to something less.
Defense attorneys can present evidence of mitigators that support lenient sentences. Criminal statutes typically do not list mitigating factors. However, courts have held that attorneys may present mitigating factors when they are relevant to sentencing. Some of the common types of mitigating factors that courts may consider include:
- No prior criminal record
- Playing a minor role in the crime
- The victim's liability
- Past abuse that led to the criminal conduct
- Emotional distress
- Physical or mental illness
- Genuine remorse
If a judge finds that significant mitigating factors are surrounding your offense, he or she may sentence you in the mitigated range of the sentence instead of the presumptive sentence. If a judge finds that there are significant aggravating factors, he or she may sentence you to the aggravated or maximum sentence for the convicted offense.
Contact DiCindio Law
If you have been charged with committing a criminal offense, you should get legal help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Michael DiCindio has previous experience working as a prosecutor and understands how the state builds cases against people charged with crimes. His experience and skill as a litigator and criminal defense lawyer help him to aggressively defend his clients against the charges that they are facing. Contact DiCindio Law today to schedule a consultation by calling us at 610.430.3535 or by sending us an email through our online contact form.