Initially, the primary focus of a criminal defense attorney tends to be avoiding a client’s conviction. However, there are some circumstances where avoiding a conviction may not be a feasible criminal defense. This may be because of plea bargains, overwhelming evidence against a defendant, or potentially even a confession. Whatever the reason, when a defendant is facing conviction there may still be option available for a criminal defense attorney to help a defendant achieve a lesser sentence than what might normally be given in light of the crime a defendant is being tried for. One of these options includes arguing mitigating circumstances as part of the criminal defense strategy. Mitigating circumstances do not relieve a defendant of the responsibility for having committed a crime, but they may help a defendant face a less extreme criminal penalty.
What are mitigating circumstances?
Basically, mitigating circumstances are factors related to a crime that make the crime less deserving of the legally prescribed punishment. Many states across the country allow judges and juries to consider mitigating circumstances when determining the sentencing for a crime. In Alabama, some examples of mitigating circumstances include but are not limited to the following:
- The defendant’s age when the crime was committed;
- The defendant’s lack of a prior criminal history;
- The defendant acted under extreme duress or the extreme domination of another;
- The defendant’s ability to appreciate the criminality of his or her conduct was substantially impaired at the time of conduct; and/or
- In capital offenses, the crime was committed under the influence of extreme mental or emotional distress.
As stated in Alabama law §13A-5-51, these are not the only circumstances that may be considered when presenting mitigating circumstances to the court. When researching the facts of a particular case, a criminal defense attorney will also research their client’s background to determine what, if any, mitigating circumstances may exist in case conviction becomes likely. Each individual defendant is different, as are the circumstances surrounding alleged crimes, and a criminal defense attorney will use those circumstances to try to achieve the best outcome possible for their client.
How do mitigating circumstances work?
Some states specifically detail the sentencing available when mitigating circumstances exist by dictating a sentence below that state’s mandatory minimum sentence for a particular crime. Other states allow judges and juries the discretion to determine how much of an impact mitigating circumstances should have on the sentence for a particular crime. In Alabama, consideration of mitigating circumstances is not mandatory. However, depending on the crime involved and the defendant, it is likely that a court will allow a criminal defense attorney to highlight any mitigating circumstances that may impact the defendant’s sentencing.
Mitigating circumstances may not always play a role in a client’s defense. If you or someone you know are facing criminal charges, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help you evaluate the potential avenues for your defense as well as the possible consequences of conviction.