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Mitigating Circumstances

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Mitigating Circumstances

Mitigating circumstances is a type of strategy used in legal defense. It can be a vital component of the defense for criminal theft charges. While there are sentencing guidelines written down in federal and state legislature, the defendant’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the prosecution and the judge. The more selfish, unfavorable, and malicious their actions seem, the harsher their sentence is likely to be.

The goal of the prosecution is to paint the defendant in as unflattering a light as possible. To mitigate the circumstances, a defense lawyer will introduce evidence that addresses the conduct of the defendant and explains negative or adverse aspects of the crime in a compelling, favorable manner.

There are many cases of theft where the actual events have nuance. The person may have committed the crime in question, but they might have believed they had good reason or not realized how much damage they were doing. If their goodwill isn’t shown to the judge and the prosecution, then the theft will look malicious with nothing to offset it.

When a person has committed the crime in question, they might offer an explanation for their actions that helps the judge to understand what they were thinking and how they didn’t intend harm. This can be more helpful than unequivocally denying having committed the action when there’s strong evidence to the contrary.

In fact, depending on the courtroom and the judge, the defendant may be actively afforded an opportunity to explain any mitigating circumstances. The judge might ask the defendant why they should care about the outcome of the case. This gives the defendant a chance to explain who they are and to present themselves as a productive member of society who accidentally made a mistake.

If a person is able to come across as sympathetic and remorseful, there’s a good chance that their sentence will be lighter. It also helps to make restitution or create a plan for restitution in the future. Your ability to paint yourself as a sympathetic but flawed individual can make the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge, probation instead of incarceration, or even a complete lack of a criminal conviction.

This is part of why a defense lawyer is so important. In addition to protecting you from law enforcement and explaining your options, your lawyer will have advice for how you should present yourself to the judge. They might help you rehearse your explanation of your mitigating circumstances. In an ideal case, the end result will be conflict resolution. You want to get a sentence that helps the victims of the crime feel like they’ve gotten closure while also helping you move forward with your life.

Downward Departure

A downward departure is a reduction in a person’s potential sentence or the severity of their charges. Downward departures often occur when there are mitigating circumstances, the defendant has expressed remorse, and they’ve made a reasonable case indicating that they will never do anything like this again.

Other circumstances that affect the downward departure of a person’s sentencing include the amount of money or value of the property that was stolen, the ongoing impact on the victim, the relationship the defendant had to the victim, and the position of authority or power that the defendant had. Another big factor is whether the crime was only committed once or was an ongoing theft or fraud scheme.

Upward Departure

On the other hand, there are also a number of factors that could cause a judge to pass down a more harsh sentence on a defendant. If the judge doesn’t accept the mitigating circumstances as valid, or the prosecution creates a compelling picture of malicious intent regardless of the mitigating circumstances, the defendant might be in trouble.

During a court proceeding, questions will be asked regarding the character of the defendant, their motivations in committing the crime, and the harm done to the victim. Any of these circumstances might have a negative impact on a judge’s ruling:

  • The victim suffered serious financial harm that might include being unable to pay their rent, mortgage, or for food
  • The victim suffered serious emotional distress and felt violated
  • The theft was committed due to greed rather than desperation or need
  • The victim was a nonprofit institution, a homeless individual, a mentally ill person, a physically ill person, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable
  • The money was used to further a luxurious and greedy lifestyle
  • The money was not used to help any other individuals, including family members
  • The defendant is incapable or unwilling to make restitution to the victims

If the crime seems to have been committed out of pure greed, a judge is unlikely to have sympathy

Mitigating Circumstances

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