Aggravating And Mitigating Factors Essay Writer

Mitigating circumstances are facts that do not excuse a person for civil or criminal misconduct, but which may show that he had some valid reasons for his actions. Mitigating circumstances are often used in court proceedings when the judge or jury determines a defendant’s sentence for a crime, or damages in a civil lawsuit. To explore this concept, consider the mitigating circumstances definition.

Definition of Mitigating Circumstances

Noun

  1. Circumstances that tend to lessen the culpability of a defendant.

What are Mitigating Circumstances

All court cases are different, with specific circumstances that tend to either make the crime or wrongdoing more odious, or which lighten the defendant’s blame. Circumstances which lighten the blame or culpability are called “mitigating circumstances,” and may be considered by the judge or jury in determining the sentence or award of damages after a judgment has been rendered.

While mitigating circumstances do not affect the decision of whether or not the defendant committed the wrong, they may help the judge lean toward leniency in sentencing or award in the end. Circumstances or facts that shed additional light on the heinous or shocking nature of the defendant’s actions are called “aggravating circumstances,” and may be used to increase the severity of the sentence or amount of the award.

Mitigating Circumstances in Civil Law

Mitigating circumstances in civil law are used not to determine the guilt or wrongdoing of the defendant, but to determine the amount that the plaintiff should receive as an award if he wins the case. While mitigating circumstances in civil law do not imply that a person did not suffer damages, they may reduce the amount that the plaintiff receives.

For example:

Brad filed a civil lawsuit against John, claiming John had defamed his character by sending an email to their coworkers, in an attempt to damage Brad’s reputation. During the civil court proceedings, John showed the court that Brad had written obscenities on his cubicle wall.

If John can prove that he reasonably believed that it was Brad who defaced his space, the court may consider this to be a mitigating circumstance, which would lessen John’s liability, and decrease the amount of damages he may be ordered to pay.

Mitigating Circumstances in Criminal Law

When deciding what sentence to hand down for a defendant who has been convicted of a crime, the court usually considers information about the crime committed, as well as information about the offender. Mitigating circumstances do not, in any way, dismiss the fact that the defendant violated the law, but they may lessen the penalties that the defendant receives for committing the crime.

For example:

Wanda walks in on her husband having an affair with another woman. She becomes enraged, picks up a heavy lamp, and hits him over the head, killing him. If Wanda is convicted of murdering her husband, the court may consider her emotional state as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing her. This does not excuse Wanda from committing murder, but sheds light on the reason for her actions.

Mitigating Circumstances and the Death Penalty

In any criminal case in which the death penalty might be imposed, the judge or jury may consider any mitigating circumstances presented by the defense in determining whether to sentence the defendant to death or life in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a jury should weigh mitigating factors presented by the defense against aggravating factors presented by the prosecution in making its decision.

The laws of each jurisdiction define what factors may be considered aggravating circumstances. These generally include such factors as:

  • Murders committed for financial gain
  • Murders committed during the commission of another crime
  • Murders of police officers
  • Murders of multiple victims
  • During capital cases, the defense can produce evidence showing the court why the defendant should not be sentenced to death.

Common Mitigating Circumstances

Because many situations may be considered mitigating factors, there is no list set by law. Commonly used mitigating factors include:

  • Defendant’s Age – whether the defendant was an adult or minor at the time of the crime.
  • Mental capacity – such as the defendant’s intellectual disability, or mental state at the time of the crime.
  • History of Abuse – whether the defendant has a history of being abused.
  • No Criminal Record – this usually refers to a criminal history as an adult, but very serious offenses as a minor may be considered an aggravating circumstance.
  • Victim Culpability – the victim willingly took part in the crime or other events, which may have led to the crime.
  • Unusual Circumstances – the defendant’s actions were due to temporary emotional stress or severe provocation.
  • No Harm Done – the actions of the defendant were somehow justified, and did not cause harm to another person.
  • Necessity – the defendant committed the crime out of necessity.
  • Remorse – the defendant clearly shows he is remorseful for his actions.

Mitigating Circumstances Change Life Sentence to Death Penalty

In 1985, Cordero Neelley kidnapped a 13-year-old girl so that her husband Alvin could have sex with her. Neelley took the girl to a hotel and threatened to kill her if she resisted. After beating and sexually assaulting the girl repeatedly over the course of several days, Neelley injected her with drain cleaner six times in an attempt to kill her. Neeley then shot the girl in the back. Neelley then picked up a couple, killed the man, and took his wife to her husband at the hotel. The man survived, but she killed the woman the following day.

Neeley turned herself in the next day, and was charged with multiple counts of murder. The jury convicted Neeley, and recommended a life sentence. The judge disagreed, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, sentencing Neeley to death.

The aggravating circumstance considered by the judge included:

  • The crime was committed during the course of kidnapping
  • The crime was extremely atrocious and cruel compared to other capital offenses that had come before the court

The mitigating circumstances considered by the judge included:

  • Neelley’s age, as she was only 18 at the time of the crime
  • Neeley was greatly influenced by her husband

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Civil Law – The body of law dealing with private matters between individuals and corporations and other entities.
  • Criminal Law – The body of law dealing with criminal offenses and their punishment.
  • Culpability – Blameworthiness, deserving of blame or censure.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Defamation – An intentional false statement that harms a person’s reputation, or which decreases the respect or regard in which a person is held.

§ 3592.

Mitigating and aggravating factors to be considered in determining whether a sentence of death is justified

(a)Mitigating Factors.—In determining whether a sentence of death is to be imposed on a defendant, the finder of fact shall consider any mitigating factor, including the following:
(1)Impaired capacity.—

The defendant’s capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the defendant’s conduct or to conform conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired, regardless of whether the capacity was so impaired as to constitute a defense to the charge.

(2)Duress.—

The defendant was under unusual and substantial duress, regardless of whether the duress was of such a degree as to constitute a defense to the charge.

(3)Minor participation.—

The defendant is punishable as a principal in the offense, which was committed by another, but the defendant’s participation was relatively minor, regardless of whether the participation was so minor as to constitute a defense to the charge.

(4)Equally culpable defendants.—

Another defendant or defendants, equally culpable in the crime, will not be punished by death.

(5)No prior criminal record.—

The defendant did not have a significant prior history of other criminal conduct.

(6)Disturbance.—

The defendant committed the offense under severe mental or emotional disturbance.

(7)Victim’s consent.—

The victim consented to the criminal conduct that resulted in the victim’s death.

(8)Other factors.—

Other factors in the defendant’s background, record, or character or any other circumstance of the offense that mitigate against imposition of the death sentence.

(b)Aggravating Factors for Espionage and Treason.—In determining whether a sentence of death is justified for an offense described in section 3591(a)(1), the jury, or if there is no jury, the court, shall consider each of the following aggravating factors for which notice has been given and determine which, if any, exist:
(1)Prior espionage or treason offense.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of another offense involving espionage or treason for which a sentence of either life imprisonment or death was authorized by law.

(2)Grave risk to national security.—

In the commission of the offense the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of substantial danger to the national security.

(3)Grave risk of death.—

In the commission of the offense the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person.

The jury, or if there is no jury, the court, may consider whether any other aggravating factor for which notice has been given exists.

(c)Aggravating Factors for Homicide.—In determining whether a sentence of death is justified for an offense described in section 3591(a)(2), the jury, or if there is no jury, the court, shall consider each of the following aggravating factors for which notice has been given and determine which, if any, exist:
(1)Death during commission of another crime.—

The death, or injury resulting in death, occurred during the commission or attempted commission of, or during the immediate flight from the commission of, an offense under section 32 (destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities), section 33 (destruction of motor vehicles or motor vehicle facilities), section 37 (violence at international airports), section 351 (violence against Members of Congress, Cabinet officers, or Supreme Court Justices), an offense under section 751 (prisoners in custody of institution or officer), section 794 (gathering or delivering defense information to aid foreign government), section 844(d) (transportation of explosives in interstate commerce for certain purposes), section 844(f) (destruction of Government property by explosives), section 1118 (prisoners serving life term), section 1201 (kidnapping), section 844(i) (destruction of property affecting interstate commerce by explosives), section 1116 (killing or attempted killing of diplomats), section 1203 (hostage taking), section 1992 [1] (wrecking trains), section 2245 (offenses resulting in death), section 2280 (maritime violence), section 2281 (maritime platform violence), section 2332 (terrorist acts abroad against United States nationals), section 2332a (use of weapons of mass destruction), or section 2381 (treason) of this title, or section 46502 of title 49, United States Code (aircraft piracy).

(2)Previous conviction of violent felony involving firearm.—

For any offense, other than an offense for which a sentence of death is sought on the basis of section 924(c), the defendant has previously been convicted of a Federal or State offense punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year, involving the use or attempted or threatened use of a firearm (as defined in section 921) against another person.

(3)Previous conviction of offense for which a sentence of death or life imprisonment was authorized.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of another Federal or Stateoffense resulting in the death of a person, for which a sentence of life imprisonment or a sentence of death was authorized by statute.

(4)Previous conviction of other serious offenses.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of 2 or more Federal or Stateoffenses, punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year, committed on different occasions, involving the infliction of, or attempted infliction of, serious bodily injury or death upon another person.

(5)Grave risk of death to additional persons.—

The defendant, in the commission of the offense, or in escaping apprehension for the violation of the offense, knowingly created a grave risk of death to 1 or more persons in addition to the victim of the offense.

(6)Heinous, cruel, or depraved manner of committing offense.—

The defendant committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.

(7)Procurement of offense by payment.—

The defendant procured the commission of the offense by payment, or promise of payment, of anything of pecuniary value.

(8)Pecuniary gain.—

The defendant committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in the expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value.

(9)Substantial planning and premeditation.—

The defendant committed the offense after substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person or commit an act of terrorism.

(10)Conviction for two felony drug offenses.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of 2 or more State or Federal offenses punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than one year, committed on different occasions, involving the distribution of a controlled substance.

(11)Vulnerability of victim.—

The victim was particularly vulnerable due to old age, youth, or infirmity.

(12)Conviction for serious federal drug offenses.—

The defendant had previously been convicted of violating title II or III of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 for which a sentence of 5 or more years may be imposed or had previously been convicted of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.

(13)Continuing criminal enterprise involving drug sales to minors.—

The defendant committed the offense in the course of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise in violation of section 408(c) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 848(c)), and that violation involved the distribution of drugs to persons under the age of 21 in violation of section 418 of that Act (21 U.S.C. 859).

(14)High public officials.—The defendant committed the offense against—
(A)

the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President, the Vice President-elect, the Vice President-designate, or, if there is no Vice President, the officer next in order of succession to the office of the President of the United States, or any person who is acting as President under the Constitution and laws of the United States;

(B)

a chief of state, head of government, or the political equivalent, of a foreign nation;

(C)

a foreign official listed in section 1116(b)(3)(A), if the official is in the United States on official business; or

(D) a Federal public servant who is a judge, a law enforcement officer, or an employee of a United States penal or correctional institution—
(i)

while he or she is engaged in the performance of his or her official duties;

(ii)

because of the performance of his or her official duties; or

(iii)

because of his or her status as a public servant.

For purposes of this subparagraph, a “law enforcement officer” is a public servant authorized by law or by a Government agency or Congress to conduct or engage in the prevention, investigation, or prosecution or adjudication of an offense, and includes those engaged in corrections, parole, or probation functions.

(15)Prior conviction of sexual assault or child molestation.—

In the case of an offense under chapter 109A (sexual abuse) or chapter 110 (sexual abuse of children), the defendant has previously been convicted of a crime of sexual assault or crime of child molestation.

(16)Multiple killings or attempted killings.—

The defendant intentionally killed or attempted to kill more than one person in a single criminal episode.

The jury, or if there is no jury, the court, may consider whether any other aggravating factor for which notice has been given exists.

(d)Aggravating Factors for Drug Offense Death Penalty.—In determining whether a sentence of death is justified for an offense described in section 3591(b), the jury, or if there is no jury, the court, shall consider each of the following aggravating factors for which notice has been given and determine which, if any, exist:
(1)Previous conviction of offense for which a sentence of death or life imprisonment was authorized.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of another Federal or Stateoffense resulting in the death of a person, for which a sentence of life imprisonment or death was authorized by statute.

(2)Previous conviction of other serious offenses.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of two or more Federal or Stateoffenses, each punishable by a term of imprisonment of more than one year, committed on different occasions, involving the importation, manufacture, or distribution of a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)) or the infliction of, or attempted infliction of, serious bodily injury or death upon another person.

(3)Previous serious drug felony conviction.—

The defendant has previously been convicted of another Federal or Stateoffense involving the manufacture, distribution, importation, or possession of a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)) for which a sentence of five or more years of imprisonment was authorized by statute.

(4)Use of firearm.—

In committing the offense, or in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise of which the offense was a part, the defendant used a firearm or knowingly directed, advised, authorized, or assisted another to use a firearm to threaten, intimidate, assault, or injure a person.

(5)Distribution to persons under 21.—

The offense, or a continuing criminal enterprise of which the offense was a part, involved conduct proscribed by section 418 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 859) which was committed directly by the defendant.

(6)Distribution near schools.—

The offense, or a continuing criminal enterprise of which the offense was a part, involved conduct proscribed by section 419 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 860) which was committed directly by the defendant.

(7)Using minors in trafficking.—

The offense, or a continuing criminal enterprise of which the offense was a part, involved conduct proscribed by section 420 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 861) which was committed directly by the defendant.

(8)Lethal adulterant.—

The offense involved the importation, manufacture, or distribution of a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)), mixed with a potentially lethal adulterant, and the defendant was aware of the presence of the adulterant.

The jury, or if there is no jury, the court, may consider whether any other aggravating factor for which notice has been given exists.

(Added and amended Pub. L. 103–322, title VI, § 60002(a), title XXXIII, § 330021(1), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 1960, 2150; Pub. L. 104–132, title VII, § 728, Apr. 24, 1996, 110 Stat. 1302; Pub. L. 104–294, title VI, §§ 601(b)(7), 604(b)(35), Oct. 11, 1996, 110 Stat. 3499, 3508; Pub. L. 107–273, div. B, title IV, § 4002(e)(2), Nov. 2, 2002, 116 Stat. 1810; Pub. L. 109–248, title II, § 206(a)(4), July 27, 2006, 120 Stat. 614.)


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