The Meaning of “Aggravating Factors” in Criminal Law

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There are often multiple factors that can impact a sentence in a criminal case. While each charge generally has an available sentencing range, the presence or absence of other facts could potentially increase the penalties handed down by a judge.

Aggravating factors represent facts which—when accepted by the court—can lead to a harsher sentence following a conviction. They are not present in every type of criminal case and must be set out by statute. A dedicated defense attorney can advise on the full meaning of aggravating factors in criminal law. If any of these factors are present in your case, you should contact us NOW to begin developing a defense.

What Are Aggravating Factors?

In plain terms, an aggravating factor is anything that makes a defendant deserve a harsher penalty upon conviction. They often involve crimes against particularly vulnerable victims or acts that society considers especially heinous.

Characteristics of Victims

One of the most common types of aggravating factors involves characteristics held by the alleged victims. In some cases, the statute might call for steeper penalties when the victim is a child. In others, the individual’s profession could impact the penalty phase. This is especially common among crimes targeting peace officers or government employees.

Criminal History

A person’s prior convictions could also be used against them in sentencing. First-time offenders are generally given lighter sentences, especially for less-serious crimes. Someone with prior convictions can expect to face steeper penalties.

Specific Instruments

Another example of an aggravating factor can include the commission of the crime using certain objects or instruments. The most common of these is committing a crime with a weapon—usually a firearm. You need to contact our law firm right away if you were charged with a crime while in possession of a weapon or with a prior criminal history.

What Are Mitigating Factors?

Mitigating factors are the inverse of aggravating factors. Instead of providing the judge with additional reasons why the accused might deserve a harsher punishment, these facts are used by the defense to argue for a lighter sentence.

The examples can include things from the childhood of the accused or the moments before the crime occurred. They could include a history of abuse, mental illness, necessity, or victim culpability, which might explain their actions to some extent.

Whether or not mitigating factors are appropriate can depend on the crime in question. In some cases, statutes might spell out specific circumstances that can lead to a reduced sentence.

When Are Aggravating Factors Considered?

Aggravating factors are an issue at sentencing. Often, the parties are prevented from discussing them during the guilt or innocence phase of trial out of fear that it might bias the jury. Many of these factors are based on a person’s previous behavior, which is often barred from being presented to the jury when considering guilt. Some of them are irrelevant to the elements that must be proven by the state to secure a conviction.

If a person is found guilty, the case moves on to the sentencing phase. This step in the process often has fewer restrictions, including the admission of evidence of aggravated or mitigating factors.

Talk to an Attorney About How Aggravating Factors Affect Your Criminal Case

If you are facing criminal charges, it is helpful to understand the meaning of aggravating factors. They can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of a criminal case, especially when it comes to serious charges.

An attorney from Grand Canyon Law Group can guide you through every step of the process, including fighting for you during sentencing, if it comes to that. Call us right away to learn more about your legal options.