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Understanding The Difference Between Aggravating And Mitigating Factors In Criminal Sentencing


After a criminal defendant is found guilty, the judge must decide the defendant’s punishment. Criminal laws often set mandatory sentencing restrictions. However, judges have some discretion when it comes to sentencing. Some factors can influence a judge’s sentencing decisions, such as aggravating and mitigating factors. Mitigating factors can lead to a judge ordering a reduced sentence and are presented by the defense attorney. On the other hand, aggravating factors can lead to a judge ordering a harsher punishment and are presented by the prosecutor. Read on to learn more about aggravating and mitigating factors in criminal sentencing.

Aggravating Factors

In criminal law, aggravating factors are circumstances surrounding a crime that are enough to raise the crime’s severity and punishment. Usually, aggravating factors are laid out by statute, and they vary depending on the jurisdiction and crime in question. That said, the following are some common aggravating factors;

  • Prior record of similar convictions
  • Offender used a weapon to frighten or harm victim(s)
  • The crime was motivated by, or demonstrated, hostility based on the victim’s disability
  • The offense was motivated by hate, prejudice, or bias based on sex, race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation
  • The victim was under the age of 18
  • The offender abused a position of authority or trust in relation to the victim
  • The offender was part of a criminal organization or terrorist group
  • There was an attempt to hide or dispose of evidence
  • There is evidence of prior planning
  • The crime was motivated by financial or material gain
  • There were several victims or incidents

Mitigating Factors

In criminal law, mitigating factors are circumstances that lessen the severity or culpability of a criminal act. These are factors that can result in the judge ordering a lighter sentence. Your criminal defense attorney may introduce evidence of mitigating factors to try and convince the court to give you a lighter sentence. Unlike the case with aggravating factors, the law devotes less attention to mitigating factors. However, courts allow defense attorneys to introduce evidence of mitigating factors as long as the evidence is relevant to the sentencing process.

The following are some circumstances the court can consider as mitigating;

  • It is the offender’s first offense
  • The defendant has a mental illness
  • The defendant did not play a major role in the offense
  • The defendant is very young or old
  • The defendant is of previously good character
  • The defendant turned themselves in and cooperated with law enforcement
  • The defendant has shown that they regret their actions or good behavior following the arrest
  • The defendant committed the crime under duress

Duress is when a person makes threats or engages in coercive behavior, leading to another person committing an act they would otherwise not commit.

If you are facing criminal charges, you should keep in mind that the result of your case greatly depends on aggravating and mitigating factors. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you achieve a favorable outcome.

Contact an NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, contact our NYC criminal attorney, Mark I. Cohen, at 212-732-0002.



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