Aggravating Factors — Why Criminal Punishment May Be Harsher Or Lighter

When you are arrested, the charges with which you are charged are only one factor that goes on to determine what kind of sentence you may get if convicted. The other half of this calculation involves what are known as aggravating factors. 

What are the five most common aggravating factors, and what do they mean for you if convicted? Here's what every defendant needs to know.

What Are Aggravating Factors?

In the criminal justice system, a few elements of the circumstances around a crime can be weighed to either add or reduce penalties. If these are used to add to your sentence, fine, or other penalties, they are referred to as aggravating factors. Those with the opposite effect are called mitigating factors. 

Aggravating factors are not separate charges, nor do they create a case or a conviction on their own. But the judge can value (or often ignore) them when deciding on a sentence. 

What Are the Most Common?

There are three general categories of aggravating factors defendants are most likely to experience. 

The first set has to do with the person who committed the crime. Not your first conviction? Someone deemed a repeat offender will likely see more serious penalties than a first-time offender.  And what role did you play in the crime? If you are considered a leader, you may get a harsher penalty than those who aren't. 

The second type of factor involves the victim or victims. A crime committed against a particular kind of victim — commonly an elderly person, a child, or a person with limited capacity — is considered more heinous than one against other victims. And crimes whose motive is based on a victim's gender, country of origin, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religion could be a hate crime and given a harsher punishment. 

Finally, there are factors about the crime itself. Mandatory minimum sentences, for instance, remove some leeway from judges when it comes to reducing sentences. These state or federal laws target certain types of crimes by assigning a higher required minimum penalty. There may be little that you or a judge can do about that. 

Where Can You Get Help?

If there could be aggravating factors in your case, you're at more risk than others in your situation. One resource you can contact is a criminal defense attorney. Make an appointment today to learn how they can help mitigate these aggravating factors.

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