The court has to consider various factors when trying to determine what sentence a person should face if they’re convicted of a crime.
Sentencing factors can be divided into two main categories: aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors are aspects of the crime or the offender’s background that are considered during sentencing. Common aggravating factors include:
- Severity of the crime or harm to victims
- Use of violence or weapons
- Pattern of criminal behavior
- Presence of vulnerable victims, such as children or the elderly
- Hate crimes
- Level of planning or premeditation
- Defendant’s leadership role in a criminal organization or conspiracy
Any of these factors being present can lead to the court adding more time or components to a sentence than what would have been handed down without them.
These are aspects of the crime or the offender’s background that may reduce the severity of the sentence. Common mitigating factors include:
- Defendant’s age, mental capacity or personal circumstances at the time of the offense
- Absence of a prior criminal record or a history of good behavior
- Defendant’s genuine remorse, acceptance of responsibility or willingness to make restitution to the victim(s)
- Defendant’s cooperation with law enforcement or willingness to provide information that aids in the prosecution of other offenders
- Extent to which the defendant was under duress
- Defendant’s role as a minor participant or accomplice in the crime
Judges weigh these factors in light of the specific circumstances of each case and the applicable sentencing guidelines, statutes or precedent. The goal is to impose a sentence that is fair and just. Defense strategies may focus on minimizing the penalties a person will face.