Mitigating and Aggravating Factors: Understanding the Difference

Mitigating and Aggravating Factors: Understanding the Difference

Aggravating and mitigating factors are legal terms. You might not encounter them unless you somehow involve yourself in the legal system. You may live your whole life and never hear about them.

If you end up in front of a judge, though, you should understand aggravating and mitigating factors. They might determine whether you’re getting slapped on the wrist or whether you’ll end up in jail for years.

What Do These Terms Mean?

Mitigating factors are extenuating events or circumstances. They might lead to a judge reducing your sentence when a trial reaches that point.

As for aggravating factors, they are events or circumstances that indicate you look more guilty. In other words, aggravating factors might mean you are more culpable for something you did.

If a judge looks at some extenuating circumstances when you’re on trial, they might realize you didn’t have malicious or criminal intentions, even if you broke the law. If the judge sees some aggravating factors involved, though, they might look at you more harshly. They may throw the book at you, even if it’s your first offense.

What Are Some Examples?

Let’s say you hit someone while driving your car. You struck a pedestrian in a crosswalk and severely injured them. If it was raining hard and you could not see very well, those are extenuating circumstances. Maybe you made an illegal turn and caused the accident, but you couldn’t see well because of the driving rain.

In that same example, maybe you’re also an inexperienced driver. If so, the judge will probably look at you more leniently because of it.

On the other hand, perhaps you smoked marijuana before driving. Maybe you ingested alcohol as well. If so, those are aggravating circumstances. The judge will look at you more harshly because you behaved recklessly.

St. Louis Workers' Compensation Defense Attorney & Lawyer | The Petraborg  Law Firm

Do These Always Come into Play?

If you do something against the law, it never happens in a vacuum. You acted in a particular context, and the criminal court system will always consider those details.

That’s why judges have some ability to determine how much jail time they might give you if you break the law. If they feel some mitigating factors exist that caused you to act as you did, they might only fine you or suspect your sentence. That’s why judges wield so much power in criminal matters.

If a judge looks at what you did and sees aggravating circumstances, they might give you the maximum sentence possible so that you learn your lesson. A judge usually thinks about the societal damage you caused. They think about anyone who you hurt.

Since no crime exists without aggravating or mitigating factors, you might expect dramatically different outcomes depending on certain details that might come out during your trial. Aggravating and mitigating factors will always inform a judge’s decision, which is why they matter so much.

Looking at them if you’re on trial should indicate whether you’ll get a maximum or minimum sentence.