Understanding mitigating and aggravating factors

Defending yourself if you are facing criminal charges does not stop after the trial or plea. There is also the sentencing process to navigate. During sentencing, lawyers can negotiate an agreement with the Crown, or the Court will hand down a sentence.

Whatever sentencing entails and regardless of where it comes from, a criminal sentence will consider mitigating and aggravating factors.

Mitigating factors

Mitigating factors are elements of a person or a crime that support a reduced penalty. They generally provide some explanation for a criminal act or show that an individual should not be treated as harshly as someone else.

An individual could make an argument for a lesser sentence because of mitigating factors like:

  • Being young
  • Acting in self-defence
  • Showing remorse for wrongdoing
  • Playing an insignificant role in the crime
  • Having no prior criminal record
  • Having a mental or physical illness

These elements can show that harsher penalties are not appropriate. They demonstrate that the offender is unlikely to re-offend and will cooperate with the law and authorities.

Aggravating factors

On the other end of the sentencing spectrum are aggravating factors. These are elements of an offence or individual that support harsher penalties. 

Some common examples of aggravating factors include:

  • Having a history of similar offences and convictions
  • Targeting vulnerable victims
  • Playing a significant role in the crime
  • Whether and to what degree a person planned the action
  • The severity of the harm caused

When these factors play a role in a case, they could trigger longer periods of incarceration, higher financial penalties or additional sanctions. 

Making your case during sentencing

Some of these factors can be somewhat subjective, and it is crucial to highlight the mitigating factors in a case while arguing against aggravating factors.

For instance, having a criminal record may not be debatable. However, a persuasive argument could show that a person has genuine remorse or that the offence was an isolated incident and will not happen again.

The criminal and sentencing process in Ontario can be intimidating, and there may be a lot that individuals are not aware of when they are facing charges. However, with this information and legal guidance, individuals can defend themselves against an unfair, overly harsh outcome.


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