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After The Guilty Verdict: Using Mitigating Factors To Ask For A Reduced Sentence

What happens after the jury's verdict if you're found guilty of a felony crime? You may be surprised to find out that you won't immediately learn your punishment. Instead, you and your attorney will start preparing for a sentencing hearing. The sentencing hearing gives you a chance to present information that mitigates your role or responsibility for the crime and to ask for leniency. This is what you need to know.

What are mitigating factors and why are they important?

A mitigating factor is anything that either partially excuses your actions or shows that a harsh punishment is unnecessary. That makes it important to let your attorney know any possible information about you, your life, and the crime itself that you think should be taken into consideration when you are sentenced. 

In some cases, a successful hearing can result in probation instead of incarceration. In other cases, like that of convicted murderer Jodi Arias, it could mean the difference between life and death. 

What types of mitigating factors are there?

Your attorney is generally free to present anything that's remotely related to who you are as a person and to the crime itself. That makes each case somewhat unique when it comes to mitigating factors, but there are some that are fairly commonly used. Your personal history, for example, is likely to be the source of many mitigating factors:

  • Was the crime out of character for you? Had you always been a law-abiding citizen before?
  • Were you a productive member of society? Have you lived in the community for a long time? Are you or were you employed? Are you or were you supporting a family?
  • Were you a good student? An honorable member of the armed services? Have you belonged to any volunteer organizations that help others?
  • Are you contrite about the crime? Do you accept responsibility for your actions? Are you willing to pay restitution to any victims of your crime?

Your attorney can offer testimony from people that know you or work with you to show that you are generally a person of good character. This helps argue that your actions were an aberration, a one-time event that isn't likely to be repeated.

Your attorney may also want to present evidence about the circumstances of the crime itself. Sometimes mitigation comes in the form of details that make your wrong behavior understandable to others:

  • Were you suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness (for which you are now medicated) at the time of the crime?
  • Did you allow yourself to get pushed into a criminal action out of love or fear? For example, did you embezzle funds from your employer because you were facing large medical bills for a spouse? Did you fire a gun at someone because you were simply afraid?

There are numerous other, potential mitigating factors and your attorney will likely ask you a lot of detailed questions in order to determine what those factors are. 

Can the presentation of mitigating factors backfire on you?

Keep in mind that the prosecution is going to try to present aggravating factors–which are essentially the opposite of mitigating factors–in order to argue that you deserve a longer, harsher sentence. You run the risk of giving the prosecution ammunition against you by bringing up certain issues as part of your defense.

For example, if you were heavily intoxicated during the crime, you may not want to bring that up as a mitigating factor. Unlike mental illness, intoxication is voluntary, and the prosecution could argue that it shows your tendency toward bad choices. If you claim that you were acting out of fear because the victim was abusive toward you, the prosecution will likely make a significant attempt to discredit you. It may be hard to convince someone that you were abused in the absence of medical records, social service interventions, photographs, or witnesses. That means you should pick and choose carefully what mitigating factors you decide to present.

For more information on what mitigating factors to present during the sentencing phase of your trial, talk to your attorney, like those at Bayley & Mangan Law Office and other firms.