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Mitigating factors reduce the gravity and seriousness of a crime

Sometimes the gravity and seriousness of a crime may leave you fearful and expecting the worst and believing that you are staring at a long prison sentence or worse punishment, but very often mitigating circumstances might prove to be the saving grace and prompt the judge to take a lenient view.

Imagine a real life situation where a teenager with no criminal record acts as an accomplice for her older boyfriend who has a longish criminal record and they are both involved in a store robbery executed at gun point. The crime was planned and executed by the older experienced man and the girl was merely his stand by. But how would the judge decide punishment? Would he judge and punish the crime differently for each individual, and if so, why would he do that?

The above example illustrates how and why mitigating circumstances can create a situation that weakens the gravity and seriousness of any crime to the extent that the defendant’s behavior might seem more understandable and less blamable.

In the example mitigating circumstances exist because the girl was young and impressionable and had no previous history of crime.

Sometimes people are incited to act on the foundation of religious beliefs that they hold dear. Sometimes a person involved in a crime may not have actually committed the crime but was a part of the crime scene because of his predilection for substance abuse and due to peer pressure (youngsters following grownups and mirroring their mannerisms). A parent may not be charged with neglect and child abuse if his religious beliefs prevent him from seeking medical treatment of his sick child. This is vastly different from a situation where the parent willfully ignores his sick child when medical remedies are available and the child’s condition worsens as a result of neglect. All these instances create mitigating or aggravating circumstances that a judge weighs before deciding punishment.

How does a judge interpret mitigating circumstances?

The expression is subject to an array of interpretations by different jurists, but generally speaking the law interprets mitigating circumstances as a defense argument that views the crime as being less blamable or not serious enough to warrant harsher punishment. Basically, the mitigating circumstances surrounding the crime, as highlighted by the defense, should prompt the judge to view the crime leniently.

To give another illustration, the defendant could be punished for possessing nude images of a teen because this is tantamount to abetting child pornography. If the teen is proved to have willingly shared the image and if the defendant is also below eighteen, the punishment could be reduced to sexting. This is a lower punishment than what an adult would be served if caught with a collection of pornographic children’s’ images in his computer hard drive. Similarly a person suffering from a developmental disability or one who is mentally challenged may not be convicted for stealing a pen from the retail store. Mitigating circumstances are invariably considered and factored into all decisions within the criminal justice system.

Aggravating circumstances that enhance the seriousness of the crime

A judge may take a serious view and prescribe harsher punishment if aggravating circumstances are evident that exacerbate the crime. For example the perpetrator might have a previous history of serious crime or the victim might be a mentally challenged person or a defenseless child of tender age or the crime could have caused irreparable harm or loss of reputation to the victim.

Examining mitigating or aggravating circumstances in death penalty cases

Judges can access probation reports among other things to ascertain facts that may not be argued in court, but the death penalty is awarded by the jury system, and it is mandatory for jurors to examine all mitigating or aggravating circumstances to arrive at a balanced view. Such circumstances are not be treated as excuses or counter arguments to embellish defense and prosecution briefs but are considered as valid factors that reduce the blame on the defendant or shed more light on the guiding principles underlying the defendant’s behavior.

In death penalty cases the following mitigating circumstances are considered:

• There is no previous history of crime or punishment.
• Signs of extreme emotional unrest or mental agitation at the time of the crime.
• Religious or cultural beliefs that justify the crime.
• The perpetrator is a minor acting on impulse and without rationality.
• Senility and old age compounded by medical problems and conditions like Alzheimer’s.
• Act performed under massive mental stress or anguish, and maybe with an overriding desire to defend self or family.
• Victim may have been actively participating in the crime.
• Perpetrator is mentally challenged or intoxicated and not in his senses.

All these mitigating circumstances can contribute to lowering the gravity of any crime and will be taken into account when judgment day approaches.

If you happen to be arrested and imprisoned for a crime and you believe that you are wrongfully charged for the crime because of mitigating circumstances, it would be up to the experienced criminal defense lawyer to project these circumstances in a way that ensures reduced punishment, lenient sentencing or dismissal of charges.

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