Welcome back to A-Z! Today's letter M is talking about mitigating (and aggravating) factors in a sentencing process.
In my death penalty post I mentioned mitigation investors whose job it is to go out there to collect records of the accused that may help lower a misdemeanor to an infarction when pleading or to lessen his sentence after the conviction by showing he had it bad.
How does it work?
If a judge or jury finds a defendant guilty at the end of a criminal trial, the court must determine the defendant’s punishment.
State and federal criminal statutes often set maximum penalties based on the offense classification, with felonies having the most serious possible punishments.
Judges have some discretion with regard to sentencing, and a sentencing hearing allows both prosecutors and defendants the chance to present evidence for the court to consider.
Here are some common mitigating circumstances aka extenuating circumstances:
Lack of record: The defendant doesn’t have a criminal record, or only has a relatively minor record. Remorse: The defendant accepted responsibility and showed remorse. A defendant who confesses upon arrest and is contrite in court has this factor in his favor. Difficult personal history: The defendant’s unique upbringing or family circumstances led to her criminal conduct. For example, a lawyer might try to persuade a sentencing judge that the client’s violent acts are attributable to abuse she suffered as a child. Mental illness or diminished mental capacity: the offender may suffer from depression, schizophrenia etc. - does he address it, is he in therapy? Addiction:Drug or alcohol addiction contributed to, but wasn’t just an incentive or excuse to commit the care. I don't particularly like these. Somebody doesn't have a criminal record - does that make the current crime less bad? Chris Watts didn't have priors. I'll talk about that in a minute. Not having prior convictions may also be a sign that the culprit just hasn't been caught before!?
Many people (criminal or not) have shitty childhoods. Some people just should not be parents, and I feel for their children who are being abused and neglected. They certainly have a lot playing against them.
But these are the tools a litigator may use in favor of his clients. The Jury or Judge will have to deliberate whether they agree. There there is the opposite: Aggravating Factors:
Prosecutors can offer evidence of aggravating factors that would merit a harsh sentence during trial. Repeat Offenses: a court may impose a harsher penalty on a defendant with multiple prior convictions. In states that have a three strikes law (such as California) a relatively minor offense may result in a lengthy jail or prison term. Vulnerability of Victim: Vulnerability based on age, such as a crime of violence against a child or a fraudulent scheme targeting the elderly, may be an aggravating factor. Others may include physical or mental disability, illness or injury or incapacitation of the victim. Leadership Role:If the defendant played a prominent role in a criminal scheme, such as a leadership or managerial role, some jurisdictions allow courts to consider that as an aggravating factor. This is particularly true if the defendant influenced or controlled others involved in the offense. Hate Crimes: Most hate crime statutes include categories like race, religion, and national origin. Some states include categories like sexual orientation and gender identity as well. I am pretty sure Judge Marcelo Kopcow didn't care much about the fact that Christopher Watts didn't have any priors but instead he applied the aggravating "Vulnerability of Victim" factor when sentencing him to three counts of first degree murder and two more concurrent life sentences in the killings of his daughters Bella and Celeste because they were "persons in a position of trust".
On top Chris got 48 years for unlawful termination of his unborn son Nico's pregnancy plus three 12-year sentences for tampering with the bodies of his family members.
Makes me wonder if Chris regretted taking the deal that the District Attorney - in accordance with the victims' family - offered: if Chris pleaded guilty, the death penalty was going to be removed. Shanann's Mom's official statement was "Chris made the choice to take those lives, I don't want to be in a position of making the choice to take his (Chris')"
In my eyes the death penalty (if it was even going to be applied) would be the easy way out. A life sentence may be a worse punishment. While in the February interview with the very detectives / agents who exposed him, he sounded pretty content with his structured prison life.
However, just a few weeks ago, a fellow inmate seemed to have figured out what Watts was in for, and in prison guys who kill children are the lowest of the low and will be harassed. So this is the living hell Chris deserves.
What do you think of mitigating and aggravating factors? Should they be considered?
Before you leave I'd like to tell you that you are part of a special occasion today: this is my 777th post since I started my blog in June 2012! So help yourself to a glass of my favorite champagne poured by this handsome gentleman. Just remember: being drunk may but doesn't have to be a mitigating factor if you end up doing something stupid!