What Are "Aggravating and Mitigating Factors"?

In an Arizona criminal case, a defendant may be sentenced to a penalty based on the crime alone. This is known as a presumptive sentence, which is based on Arizona statutes relevant to the crimes committed. Far more likely, however, is that there will be aggravating or mitigating factors that impact how a judge balances facts that can lead to a harsher or more lenient sentence.

Here is a closer look at aggravating and mitigating factors in Arizona law, as outlined by A.R.S. § 13-701.

Aggravating Factors

In simplest terms, aggravating factors are looked to by the court in order to determine whether a more severe sentence or penalty is deserved for a convicted defendant. As such, prosecutors pushing for a felony sentence will typically bring forth elements that they believe warrant a tougher sentence based on A.R.S. § 13-701(D). This section lists the following circumstances or behaviors as aggravating factors:

  • The infliction of harm or the threat to inflict harm
  • Whether a deadly weapon or dangerous weapon was used or simply used as a threat
  • Taking property or otherwise damaging it
  • Having an accomplice present
  • Committing an offense in an "especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner"
  • The offense was committed for financial gain or something else of value
  • The offense was committed by a public servant in direct relation to the public servant's office or employment
  • The victim or a deceased victim's family suffered immediate physical, emotional or financial harm because of a defendant's conduct

In addition to this extensive criteria, a past felony history is considered an aggravating factor in Arizona as well. Broadly, then, factors such as these can be used by the court to impose a harsher sentence. The factors must be reasonable enough to include in a final verdict, which is why an experienced Arizona criminal defense lawyer is an essential ally when the prosecution is pushing for a harsh sentence based on aggravating factors. Additionally, your attorney will also put forward compelling mitigating factors that can support a defendant receiving mercy in the form of a more lenient sentence.

Mitigating Factors

Mitigating factors are the logical opposite of aggravating factors, as they are used by the court to consider whether a more lenient sentence is justified. Although Arizona law provides fewer mitigating factors than the extensive list of aggravating factors, A.R.S. § 13-701(E) still outlines key mitigating circumstances that can lead to a lesser sentence. Circumstances that can mitigate the sentence of an Arizona defendant include:

  • A defendant's age
  • A defendant's ability to appreciate what they did was wrong, which can include mental impairment that does not rise to the level of impairment that constitutes a defense to prosecution itself
  • A defendant was under significant or substantial duress
  • The part played by the defendant in the crime was minor
  • The defendant complied with required legal duties after committing the offense
  • Finally, Arizona law provides a catch-all provision of sorts that says the court can look to any other mitigating factor that is relevant to the defendant's character, background or circumstances of the crime

Once the aggravating and mitigating factors have been fully laid out by the prosecution and defense, the court will then determine sentencing weighing these factors. The judge will make a determination whether the defendant should receive a presumptive sentence (a default sentence according to Arizona), an aggravated sentence (a harsher punishment) or a mitigated sentence (a more lenient punishment).

At Tyler Allen Law Firm, our team will present evidence carefully that shows you deserve a more lenient sentence based on mitigating factors if you choose to accept a guilty plea or are convicted. Contact us  to discuss your legal questions about Arizona sentencing law or to reach out for a legal consultation that will protect your legal rights after being charged with a crime.