When you are charged with a crime and found guilty by either a jury or a judge, then the court determines the punishment for the crimes.
Texas, along with other states and in federal statutes, has maximum penalties based upon the classification of the offense, with felonies often getting the most serious punishments.
Of course, the courts have some discretion when it comes to sentencing. At sentencing hearings, prosecutors and defense counsel have the chance to present evidence for the court to consider as it renders its sentence. This is where aggravating as well as mitigating factors come into play.
Here’s what you need to know about how aggravating and mitigating factors can influence your Texas sentencing hearing and how the right lawyer can help you to navigate this legal process.
What Are Aggravating Factors?
The prosecutors in a case offer evidence of aggravating factors at a sentencing hearing as a tactic to increase the penalty for the crime. Common aggravating factors include:
The court may choose a harsher penalty under the law if the defendant has a history of multiple criminal convictions. One common law in many states is the “three strikes” law. A third conviction for a relatively minor offense can result in a lengthy prison sentence.
Leadership Role in the Crime
If the person found guilty of the crime was in a prominent role to plan and carry out the crime, then the court can consider that an aggravating factor. This is often imposed when the defendant controlled or influenced others to commit the crime.
If the crime for which the defendant was found guilty was perpetrated against a victim deemed vulnerable, such as an elderly or mentally disabled victim, then the penalty can be harsher. Vulnerability based on the age of the victim is also considered an aggravating factor.
Sentence enhancements are also available to the court if the crime is considered a hate crime. Hate crimes are perpetrated when the motivation of the crime was bias or hostility due to a characteristic of the victim such as race, national origin, and religion.
How Do Mitigating Factors Help?
While there are aggravating factors that can make the penalty for a crime harsher, there are also mitigating factors that can be presented by a defense attorney to the court that supports leniency in sentencing.
Some common mitigating factors that can influence the judge’s sentencing include:
- No prior criminal history
- The culpability of the victim in the crime
- A minor role in the crime
- Genuine remorse is shown by the defendant
- Physical or mental illness
Furthermore, circumstances surrounding a crime like stress, emotional upheaval, or provocation that does not excuse the commission of the crime, can offer some explanation for it and may mitigate sentencing as well.
Only a Judge Determines Your Sentence
The judge or jury may have decided on your guilt or innocence, but only the judge can determine your sentence for a crime.
There are many things a judge must take into consideration when sentencing an individual and the more you understand how Texas state laws work in this regard to advocate for yourself, the better your chances of a fair sentence will be.
Aggravating and mitigating factors are an important part of your defense, even after you’ve been convicted. That’s why it’s vital for you to understand how the sentencing process works so that you can ensure the sentence does indeed fit the crime.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. He has been named one of the 3 Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, recognized by Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, Avvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.