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Arizona Criminal Law Basics: Understanding Mitigating and Aggravating Factors

Posted by Matthew Springer | Jun 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

When an acquittal in your court case isn't possible, you may receive a lighter or harsher sentence than usual depending on the circumstances surrounding your crime. During your sentencing hearing, an experienced Arizona defense attorney will present factors to the judge that may reduce your sentence, known as mitigating factors. Conversely, if the prosecuting attorney feels that you should be more heavily punished, they can provide the judge with factors that highlight the negative aspects of your case. These are known as aggravating factors. Based on both of these factor types, the judge will determine how lenient or harsh they should be with your sentencing.

Mitigating Factors

Judges take mitigating factors into consideration at the time of sentencing. They may include a number of factors like:

  • The defendant's lesser role in the crime
  • Their criminal history
  • Whether they were under duress at the time
  • Whether they could understand that they were doing something wrong
  • Supporting roles in their family, place of worship, or ties to the larger community
  • Any other factors the lawyer sees as mitigating circumstances

Mitigating factors are pieces of evidence provided to defend the character of the defendant, the circumstances surrounding the crime, or their proclivity to commit the offense. There are also factors that may be considered that aren't legally recorded as mitigating factors such as lack of a criminal record, being a victim of sexual abuse, low IQ, the defendant's love for their family, remorse, military record, or history of employment.

Take, for example, a defendant with an intellectual or mental disability that made him or her more susceptible to an accomplice's idea to assault someone. If the defendant couldn't understand that what he or she was doing was wrong, it may be considered a mitigating circumstance. Another example would be an 18-year-old straight-A student arrested for the first time on a controlled substance distribution charge. With no previous criminal record, the court might look at her grades, age, and lifetime with no criminal charges as mitigating factors.

Aggravating Factors

The judge will also consider factors that may cause him or her to impose a heavier sentence. These can include things like:

  • The use of a deadly weapon
  • Cruel or depraved behavior on the part of the defendant during the offense
  • Any inflicted harm or property damage
  • Past history of felonies, misdemeanors, and other offenses
  • Presence of an accomplice
  • The involvement of monetary incentives to commit the crime
  • And more

Examples of aggravating factors could be when a defendant brutally attacks another person based on race or sexual orientation. The brutality and pure hate involved in the crime may be considered aggravating factors—worse yet if it were planned out with an accomplice. Another example would be a woman convicted of selling heroin after several other drug convictions and run-ins with law enforcement. Her history of felonies would be looked at as an aggravating factor.

How the Sentence Is Decided

Both Aggravating and Mitigating factors are weighed by a judge in order to determine whether the defendant will receive an aggravated or mitigated sentence, or whether they'll receive an ordinary presumptive sentence. The Arizona judicial system bases the years of a sentence on a scale that runs from mitigating factors to aggravating factors. Our job is to focus the judge's attention on the mitigating circumstances in hopes that they will understand why the moral culpability or degree of blame should be less for the crime committed.

This is why it is important to hire an experienced attorney as soon as you're arrested. If you decide to enter a guilty plea or are convicted of the crime, you'll need a lawyer who can also present the appropriate mitigating factors to help reduce your sentence. Springer Law Firm, LLC, has years of experience strategically representing people facing a vast array of charges. Call us today at (928) 774-6600 to get started.

About the Author

Matthew Springer

Potential clients of northern Arizona defense attorney L. Matthew Springer are often reassured when they learn of his 100 percent commitment to criminal justice. Criminal defense is all he does. As a sole practitioner, he works only for each client. Clients of L. Matthew Springer, Attorney at Law...

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