Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
When a felony offender is sentenced, the court considers what are referred to as aggravating and mitigating factors. These factors could lessen or enhance the sentence imposed on a defendant, meaning the person would serve more – or less – time than what might otherwise apply to particular offense for which he or she was convicted.
Most people are aware that there are two major categories of crimes in Arizona. Those categories usually, although not always, separate more serious from less serious offenses. They consist of felonies, which carry a sentence of a year or more; and misdemeanors, which carry of possible punishable of less than a year in jail.
While sentencing for felonies can be affected by various factors, A.R.S. 13-702 establishes the general sentencing rules for most felonies by providing a presumptive sentence, a minimum, a maximum, a mitigated and an aggravated term for each felony class. What we want to explore is the nature of aggravating and mitigating factors, and when they might apply.
A.R.S. 13-701 lists more than two dozen aggravating factors that my apply in a given felony case. They cover a wide range of circumstances, from the value of property taken in a theft-related prosecution, to a defendant’s prior felony conviction (within the previous 10 years), to the age or disability of the victim. In certain situations, the maximum sentence may generally be imposed only if the alleged aggravating circumstance(s) is found to be true by the jury (or the judge in a bench trial) beyond a reasonable doubt.
How significantly does the presence of aggravating factors affect a sentence? As an example, a class 3 felony, which carries a presumptive sentence 3.5 years, could lead to a term 8.75 years. In the case of a class 6 felony, the presumptive sentence of 1 year could be doubled.
There are only a half dozen mitigating factors, that is, circumstances that would lighten the sentence if you are convicted. Referring to the examples above, this could reduce the potential sentence on conviction of a class 3 felony to 2.5 years. For a class 6 felony, the mitigated sentence could be as little as 4 months in jail.
Note that in determining what aggravating or mitigating factors exist, the court is always free to consider other factors relevant to the circumstances of the crime, or the defendant’s character and background.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004