If you have been charged with a crime, you might do a quick internet search about the offense and come across some scary-looking penalties.
For instance, you might see that the different levels of charges are punishable as follows:
- First-degree felony: 5 years to life in prison
- Second-degree felony: 1 to 15 years in prison
- Third-degree felony: Not more than 5 years in prison
- Class A misdemeanor: Up to 364 days in jail
- Class B misdemeanor: Up to 6 months in jail
- Class C misdemeanor: Up to 90 days in jail
Seeing these terms of incarceration may cause a lot of stress and anxiety, as you might imagine what any length of imprisonment could mean for your future.
But know that the potential criminal penalties you see are the maximums that can be imposed. A judge can order a sentence within the specified range. They decide on the sanction based on guidelines and various factors.
What Factors Does a Judge Consider When Making a Sentencing Decision?
Typically, when judges decide on sentences, they will refer to the Adult Sentencing and Release Guidelines developed by the Utah Sentencing Commission. The guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations to reduce recidivism, ensure the safety of society, and facilitate restitution for the victim.
In felony and moderate- to high-risk cases, the judge may order a presentence investigation. The investigator will review your situation and get as much information about you as possible. Weighing these facts, they will make a sentencing recommendation and present it to the judge.
Whatever the situation, several factors will be considered, including, but not limited to:
- Your criminal history: Prior charges or convictions can enhance the penalty, with felonies carrying more weight than misdemeanors.
- The seriousness of the current crime: A more severe offense will lead to greater punishments.
- Your character and needs: For convictions for multiple crimes, the judge will decide whether to impose a consecutive or concurrent sentence based on what’s necessary to reduce or manage risks.
How Do Mitigating and Aggravating Factors Effect Sentencing?
Mitigating and aggravating factors also play a role in the sentence the judge may impose. Mitigating factors are conditions that shine a positive light on you. The judge can deviate from the sentencing guidelines and reduce your term of incarceration as a result.
Mitigating factors can include:
- Cooperating during the investigation
- Participating in treatment or supervision services
- Willingly going through the screening process
- Paying or making an effort to pay restitution to the victim
- Adhering to pretrial release conditions
Even if the judge has ordered a presentence investigation, the investigator might not uncover all relevant facts about you. Therefore, you and your criminal defense attorney must gather and present factors that could help your case during sentencing. Your lawyer will help you get documents and reports, such as proof of completing treatment or letters of reference from friends or family members, for the judge’s consideration.
Aggravating factors are the opposite of mitigating. They cast a dark shadow on you and can cause the judge to impose an increased sentence.
Below are examples of aggravating factors:
- Causing substantial bodily harm or monetary loss to the victim
- Harming multiple people
- Committing the crime over a period of time
- Targeting the victim because of their age, disability, gender identity, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristics
- Committing a heinous crime
- Showing no remorse for actions
Just as you have a chance to show that mitigating conditions are present in your situation, the prosecutor also has the opportunity to demonstrate that aggravating factors were present.
When the judge considers aggravating and mitigating circumstances, they do not simply see which conditions there are more of. In other words, they do not add the number of mitigating conditions and the number of aggravating conditions and decrease or increase the sentence based on the totals.
Instead, the judge will consider the relative weights of each of the factors presented to determine how to proceed. For instance, say the prosecutor shows that 7 aggravating circumstances were present, but you only put forth 3 mitigating conditions. Your sentence will not automatically increase just because the prosecutor has more negative information against you. If even 1 of your 3 factors outweighs all 7 of the prosecutor’s, the judge might be more lenient in your sentencing.
Speak with a Defense Attorney About Your Case
Sometimes researching your alleged offense online before consulting with a lawyer can cause greater fear because you believe that the maximum sentences are guaranteed. But as noted in this blog, a lot is considered during sentencing, and it’s possible to minimize penalties. In some cases, punishments can be avoided altogether.
Discuss your case with one of our attorneys. We will explain the potential outcomes and avenues we can explore to pursue a just result.
For legal help in Salt Lake City, call Lokken & Putnam, P.C. at (801) 829-9783 or submit an online contact form today.