Aggravating factors refer to any circumstance or behavior that makes a crime more severe and deserving of a harsher punishment. Understanding aggravating factors is essential for anyone facing criminal charges because they play a vital role in determining the sentence following a conviction or a guilty plea.
They can be used to increase the punishment for an offense for which a lesser sentence would otherwise be imposed.
Types of Aggravating Factors
There are several types of aggravating factors that courts consider when determining the appropriate sentence for a convicted criminal. These factors include:
Prior Criminal Record
A prior criminal record is one of the most significant aggravating factors. A person who has committed prior crimes is considered more dangerous and likely to re-offend. Prior convictions, particularly for similar offenses, can significantly increase the punishment for a new crime.
Use of a Deadly Weapon
Crimes involving the presence of a deadly weapon, such as a gun or a knife, are considered more severe than those that do not. Their presence will almost always increase the punishment for the offender.
Motivation or Reason for the Crime
The motivation or reason behind a crime can be an aggravating factor. For example, a hate crime motivated by bias or prejudice against a particular group of people is considered more severe than a non-bias-motivated crime.
The characteristics of the victim can also be an aggravating factor. Crimes committed against vulnerable victims, such as children, the elderly, or disabled individuals, are considered more severe than crimes committed against able-bodied adults.
Examples of Aggravating Factors in Criminal Cases
Robbery is a serious offense, and a number of aggravating factors can influence the severity of the punishment. This can include the use of a deadly weapon, the victim’s vulnerability, or the amount of money or property stolen.
For example, someone committing robbery while carrying a firearm may face harsher penalties than if they had used no weapon.
Sexual Violence Cases
Sentencing for sexual violence convictions can be especially severe when aggravating factors are present If the victim is under the age of 18, has a disability of some sort, or the offender is in a position of power or trust over the victim. If any of these factors apply to the case, the sentence is likely to be much harsher than usual.
Drug-related crimes can come with severe punishments, and the severity of the sentence can be increased based on aggravating factors. These may include the quantity and type of drugs found, if the crime was committed close to a school or public area, and any prior convictions of the offender.
For example, someone selling to children near a school will be sentenced much more harshly than someone selling to adults.
Controversy Surrounding Aggravating Factors
While aggravating factors are an essential part of the criminal justice system, there is also some controversy surrounding their use. Two significant concerns are:
Bias and Discrimination
There is a concern that aggravating factors may be applied unfairly, leading to bias and discrimination against certain groups of people. For instance, there are arguments that the courts tend to apply aggravating factors more often to people of color or those with lower socioeconomic status.
Limited Judicial Discretion
Aggravating factors can limit the judge’s discretion in sentencing, making it difficult to consider the unique circumstances of each case. This can result in less flexibility in sentencing, leading to sentences that may not be appropriate in some cases.
Contact a San Jose Criminal Defense Lawyer for Legal Help
If you’ve been charged with a crime and believe aggravating factors may play a role, you’ll likely benefit from hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney in San Jose, CA. An attorney can present your best defense and negotiate to have your charges dismissed or reduced when possible. Most criminal defense attorneys offer a free consultation to review your case as well.