Picking the Punishment
When sentencing a person for a felony conviction, judges must use their discretion to impose a sentence that is fair and just given the specific circumstances of the crime. For many felony crimes, the judge must issue a sentence within a range of possible imprisonment, with few exceptions. The range typically includes a lower, middle, and an upper end of the sentencing spectrum. For example, arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony for which the sentencing range is five, seven, or nine years in a state prison. When sentencing someone for this crime, the judge can choose the lower, middle, or upper end of the sentencing spectrum. Typically, judges will look at the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the offense to decide how to sentence the defendant. Let’s take a look at what these mean and how they play a role in felony sentencing.
The specific facts and circumstances of a criminal offense can greatly affect the sentencing, especially for felony sentences. Because felony sentences can vary so much, it is crucial for anyone facing a felony charge to speak with an attorney about the potential penalties the court can impose. When it comes to a prison sentence, the difference between five and nine years is significant. The aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the offense can work to shift the sentence toward one part of the spectrum.
Aggravating circumstances are circumstances that increase the seriousness and severity of the offense. In other words, they make the crime more reprehensible. The judge may impose the maximum sentence for a felony offense with aggravating circumstances.
Mitigating circumstances are circumstances that reduce or lessen the culpability of the defendant. They make the offense less serious. In light of mitigating circumstances, a judge may impose the minimum sentence for a felony offense.
Aggravating and mitigating circumstances can be any number of singular elements or a combination of elements. Typically, what is considered an aggravating or mitigating circumstances can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and will vary from crime to crime, but there are elements considered almost universally to affect the severity and seriousness of a crime.
Common circumstances considered aggravating include:
The heinousness of the crime. Heinous crimes are particularly reprehensible in the eyes of society, such as raping or violently sexually abusing a particularly vulnerable person like a child or person with a disability. Racially motivated crimes can also fall into this category.
The lack of remorse of the defendant. An aggravating circumstance could be that the defendant showed no remorse for the crime committed, demonstrating a moral deficit.
The criminal history of the defendant. If the defendant had prior convictions, the judge may consider this an aggravating circumstance and typically this will result in a harsher sentence.
Common circumstances considered mitigating include:
The defendant as a passive participant in the crime.
The defendant was coerced or put under duress by another person to commit the crime.
The defendant was motivated by an honorable desire, such as feeding or protecting his or her family, to commit the crime.
The defendant was adequately provoked or incited to commit the crime.
When the mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating ones, the judge will typically impose a sentence on the lower end of the spectrum. Conversely, when the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating ones, the judge will typically impose a sentence on the higher end of the spectrum. When facing a broad range of sentencing that could mean the different between five and nine years in a state prison, you shouldn’t take any chances. Consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney if you are facing any felony charges. A skilled attorney can help you leverage any mitigating circumstances to potentially get the minimum sentence. Working with a knowledgeable attorney can also help ensure any aggravating circumstances are detracted from to reduce the chance of getting a sentence on the upper end of the spectrum.
Have you recently been arrested and are facing felony charges? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his team for legal help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Specializing in criminal defense, Mr. Martens can take immediate action in your case to leverage any mitigating circumstances. With over ten years experience in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 cases to trial and will not be afraid to do the same for you. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com for a free consultation.