When convicted of a crime in Mississippi, the next step of the trial process is determining the sentence. This can range from fines to probation to imprisonment, and juries or judges may decide the exact sentence.
Depending on several factors, defendants may be sentenced to greater or lesser punishments for the same crime. In criminal law, these are regarded as aggravating and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors might make a judge or jury choose the harshest penalty possible. They tend to relate to a defendant’s past conduct or to their conduct when committing the crime in question.
If a defendant has prior felony convictions, this often weighs as an aggravating factor, especially if those convictions are for the same offense. A person charged with their fifth DUI will receive a harsher penalty than someone charged for the first time.
Violence is often an aggravating factor. Although violence often brings separate charges, acting violently during the commission of a crime can result in a harsher sentence.
Mitigating factors are the other side of the coin. Circumstances might cause a judge or jury to choose a more lenient sentence.
Just as previous criminal convictions can be aggravating, a lack of prior convictions is often mitigating. A first-time offender generally receives lesser punishment.
Other mitigating factors may include:
- The age of the defendant, with younger defendants often receiving lesser sentences
- Whether some circumstances surrounding the crime offer explanation, like a person assaulting or killing someone who was sexually assaulting a friend or relative
- Whether the crime seems to have been committed under duress from another party
It’s important to note, though, that a judge or jury isn’t obligated to consider mitigating factors. It’s purely discretionary on their part.
Aggravating and mitigating factors are circumstances that judges and juries might consider when deciding on a sentence. They can bring about either a harsher or more lenient sentence than might otherwise be expected.