Even if you've accepted a plea bargain, or have been convicted of a crime, your defense isn't over. Sentences can be reduced due to a variety of factors, and your defense attorney is your best ally in this process. Learn more about what can be done to minimize your sentence after conviction.

Mitigating Circumstances

Your defense attorney will present various facts about you, and the case, for the judge to consider in a positive light when he or she imposes your sentence. These are called "mitigating" factors or circumstances. While there are many things that can be considered mitigating, things commonly presented (if they apply) are:

  • the fact that you have little or no criminal record
  • the fact that you were under a great deal of stress at the time of the incident, which caused you to act out of character
  • the fact that you felt like you were defending your family or property when you acted
  • the fact that no one was injured or not seriously injured
  • the fact that you've entered treatment for an underlying drug or alcohol addiction that affected your judgement during the incident
  • the fact that you've been suffering from a mental disorder that hadn't been diagnosed at the time of the incident (for which you are now seeking treatment)
  • the fact that you were not the primary actor in the crime, but an accessory 
  • the fact that you are genuinely remorseful for the incident
  • your age, and general physical health. For example, if you are elderly (and therefore unlikely to offend again) or in poor health (meaning prison would be too harsh on you), you could get a reduced sentence.

When you go to court for sentencing, the judge will give your attorney time to speak on your behalf, and also ask if you wish to make any statement. It's during this time that your attorney will present mitigating information, or you'll be allowed to make a statement of your remorse.

Aggravating Factors

Unfortunately for defendants, prosecutors are also allowed to present factors for the judge to consider during sentencing as well. These are called aggravating factors, and are reasons that the prosecutor thinks that your sentence should be bigger. Things a prosecutor might use are:

  • any history that you have of previous crimes, especially violent ones or ones that are similar in nature
  • the financial and physical impact of the crime on any victims or family members of victims
  • any history that you have of dropping out of treatment programs for alcoholism, drug addiction, or mental illness
  • any previous incidents where you've refused medication for mental illness
  • your apparent lack of remorse, or refusal to accept responsibility for your actions

In some cases, what the prosecutor presents may seem very unfair, especially if you disagree on the facts. If you're maintaining your innocence, for example, it's not exactly possible for your to accept responsibility for the crime and express remorse. In situations like that, your attorney will work with you to decide on a way to approach the issue that will not cause you to make an admission of guilt in court, which could impact any appeals of your conviction.

Plea Bargains Vs. Convictions

Do mitigating factors matter if you've accepted a plea bargain? Absolutely. The prosecutor may have agreed to recommend a reduced sentence in exchange for your admission of guilt, but the judge is the person who has to agree to the sentence.

If the judge asks why he or she should accept the prosecutor's recommendation for a more lenient sentence, you and your attorney want to be able to provide answers that justify the mitigation!

Negotiating a sentence can be very complicated, but the right set of mitigating factors can help reduce your sentence and drastically improve your future outlook. Talk to a defense attorney like Cook Timothy A early about the various circumstances of your life that might make a difference when it comes time for the judge to make his or her decision.