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What are “mitigating” factors in a criminal case?

On Behalf of | Apr 7, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Ending a criminal case without a conviction – but that’s not always possible. In those cases, the defense focus will often shift toward reducing the consequences of the offense.

That’s where mitigation comes in. Mitigating factors are any circumstances or conditions surrounding a criminal offense that – while neither justifying nor excusing the crime in any legal sense – tend to argue that less severe punishment would serve the interests of justice. These factors can vary widely depending on the nature of the offense, the people involved and the case’s specific circumstances. 

Here are some of the most common mitigating factors that can be raised:

1. Lack of prior criminal record

Defendants with no prior history of criminal behavior often receive more lenient treatment from the court, as their actions can be seen as an aberration, rather than a pattern that indicates disregard for the law or others.

2. Genuine remorse over the event

When a defendant accepts that their actions were wrong and they take responsibility for their behavior, that can cause the court to view them more favorably.

3. Cooperation with the authorities

Sometimes in conjunction with accepting accountability, a defendant will cooperate with law enforcement or prosecutors in an investigation. This is particularly true in white collar cases. That cooperation can demonstrate a desire to atone for their actions.

4. Mental health issues

Untreated mental health conditions and cognitive impairments can both affect a defendant’s ability to control their behavior or understand the gravity of their actions. That can mitigate their culpability and warrant a rehabilitative approach to sentencing.

5. Positive contributions to society

When someone has largely been a positive force in their community and family unit, that can be presented as a mitigating factor that demonstrates their overall good character or potential for rehabilitation.