Criminal defense is not just about making sure a defendant walks free. Equally, it can be about securing a fair sentence for someone found guilty. Attorneys spend a good deal of time on this part of the job.
Most crimes have direct penalties connected to them. For instance, a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia is punishable by up to one year in jail with fines up to $2,500. However, sentencing does not always operate in a straight line. Courts can consider several factors in their verdicts.
Among these considerations are “mitigating factors” or “mitigating circumstances.” These are outside forces that influenced a crime. For instance, an unusual scenario may force someone into a violent act they wouldn’t have committed otherwise.
When determining a sentence, courts may consider circumstances related to the crime itself or the accused.
Common Mitigating Factors Related to a Crime
These mitigating circumstances focus only on the facts of the crime, regardless of the defendant’s intent.
No Real Harm Was Done
Imagine a thief who grabs a woman’s purse on the street and runs off. Just a few blocks away, he rummages through the purse and finds nothing of value. He leaves the purse there, and the owner finds it and its contents unharmed. This purse snatcher may have committed the crime with intent, but since no one was hurt and nothing was stolen, they could receive a lighter sentence.
The Victim Is Also Partially Responsible
Imagine someone attacks a victim in the street. The victim goes too far, beating their attacker near to death. This is an overreaction that does not qualify for a self-defense plea. The victim is now the defendant, accused of assault. They may be guilty, but they did not start this fight. Moreover, they would not have committed assault if they hadn’t been attacked. This is a form of “victim culpability,” where the victim of a crime is partly responsible for causing that crime. Situations like these can lead to a reduced penalty.
The Circumstances Around the Crime Were Unusual
Picture a man with no criminal record coming home to find his wife cheating on him. In a fit of rage, he assaults the wife’s lover. His acts may be illegal, but he was faced with extraordinary, unexpected circumstances. This may justify an easier punishment at sentencing.
The Accused Was Coerced
Being coerced into a crime takes several forms. Sometimes a person is threatened (or their family members are) and forced to commit the crime. This is called operating under duress.
Less common, but equally possible, are cases of entrapment. Entrapment is difficult to prove. Police have the right to lure known criminals into a caper, and they can lie about being police. What they cannot do, however, is entice otherwise law-abiding citizens into committing a crime. When they do, they entrap that party. If the police were involved in your alleged crime, tell your attorney the entire story. If your lawyer senses entrapment in your case, they can bring those facts to light and help reduce your sentence.
Common Mitigating Factors Related to the Individual
The court can also look at an individual’s circumstances, regardless of the crime. Here are some outside forces that lead to a lighter sentence.
The Accused Has an Addiction Problem
These days, more judges have sympathy for those who suffer from addiction. Some addicts struggle for many years, which can have permanent effects on their cognitive skills. Rather than hit this offender with harsh sentences, the judge may sentence them to treatment instead.
There Is No Prior Record
Courts are much harsher on repeat offenders. In fact, repeat offenses are often built into the punishment standards. If an offender has an otherwise clean record, however, the court may show mercy. It may assume that the accused has learned their lesson and that they already know right from wrong. Such cases may yield lighter sentences.
The Accused Is Highly Cooperative
Courts tend to assume that someone has learned their lesson when they cooperate. The accused may admit guilt and placidly go along with whatever authorities want. It’s even more effective to become part of the team. If the accused helps police catch accomplices, codefendants, and coconspirators, the court may award them with a much lighter sentence.
The Accused Wasn’t in Their Right Mind
Temporary conditions can yield disastrous results. Someone could be suffering from a medical condition, or maybe they were prescribed the wrong drugs. Such circumstances can completely imbalance the mind, causing someone to make wild choices and take extreme risks. If you can prove that you were under a similar strain, you could receive a reduced sentence.
Do not confuse this with an insanity plea. If a court rules that someone has a serious mental health condition, it does not simply let this person walk free. The accused will be sent to a high-security mental health facility. While technically not jails, these places put tight restrictions on their patients. People can spend years or decades in such facilities, subjected to drugs and continual treatment. Insanity pleas are only for those who are very ill and in need of supervision.
Sometimes, you can work out a deal with the prosecutors. If you plead guilty, they can ask the courts to give you a lighter sentence. Be careful with this tactic, however. Judges can refuse the deal, opting to give you the full sentence anyway. Furthermore, pleading guilty limits your options. You are claiming that you committed the crime, so you cannot accuse the police of any wrongdoing. You also cannot take your guilty plea back once the court decides on your sentence.
Trust our attorney to help work with the court to get you a fairer sentence. If you need representation, call us today at (540) 827-4446 for a free, no-risk consultation. You may also contact us online.