What are Mitigating Circumstances?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 22 July 2018
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Mitigating circumstances are factors that partially explain or excuse behavior. They are often referred to in the legal context as factors that make a crime more understandable. These circumstances are not an absolute excuse and do not mean that no culpability will be attached to the actions; they simply mean that the actions are viewed as less egregious in light of the circumstances.

The opposite of this is aggravating factors. Aggravating factors are those that make a crime seem more egregious, such as prior felony convictions or choosing an especially vulnerable victim. Such conditions can make the penalty for a crime more stringent.

Mitigating factors, on the other hand, can at times lessen the penalties associated with a crime. For example, if a person walks in on his spouse while she is having an affair and kills her, the fact that he caught her engaged in infidelity could be considered a mitigating circumstance. He is not excused from killing her in the eyes of the law, but his crime is seen as more understandable.

When such circumstances are present, the penalties associated with the crime can be less stringent. For example, in the situation described above, the person who walked in on his spouse would normally have been guilty of first or second degree murder as a result of the killing. Since he caught her in the act of infidelity, however, he would be tried only for manslaughter in some jurisdictions.


The law allows circumstances to occasionally mitigate penalties for crimes because certain things make a crime more understandable. It is, in a sense, a public policy exception to penalties associated with a crime. It is the law's version of realizing that some things make illegal behavior more acceptable.

There must still be penalties for the behavior despite the circumstances that seem to mitigate the actions because the law does not want to encourage vigilante justice. For example, the law cannot void all penalties associated with a man killing his unfaithful spouse, otherwise everyone might take justice into their own hands. Still, the law recognizes that it is somewhat understandable that he would kill his wife under these circumstances.

Common examples include crimes of passion or incapacitation. The example of a man walking in on an unfaithful wife would be a crime of passion. Diminished capacity to understand the circumstances of the crime, or the victim's consent to the criminal behavior, can also be considered a mitigating circumstance.


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Post 5

How's about being mislead by a law firm on a civil case against the city? Because of that, the person lost his business and home (under mitigating circumstances, don't you think he can sue the lawyers who misrepresented him in the civil case?) for negligence and punitive damages for when he got hurt by it. He only received $10,000. He was under the impression by his lawyers that he should not worry, that they're handling it. Since then, the statute of limitations expired for civil cases with the city.

Post 4

SauteePan - I know that sometimes you can fight a traffic ticket with mitigating circumstances like bad weather or an emergency situation in which you had to get to the hospital.

When in doubt it is best to seek an attorney who know how to fight a traffic ticket and can either get your ticket thrown out or have you receive a lighter fine.

Post 3

Crispety - I know that there are cases in which mitigating circumstances play a large role in the verdict that a defendant receives.

For example, in a case in which a wife kills a husband as a result of extensive abuse, the jury will usually grant the wife a lighter sentence because the abuse was a mitigating circumstance.

I also think that involvement in charities and philanthropic work can also define mitigating circumstances and is taken into account when a defendant is sentenced to a crime.

Post 2

I know that sometimes mitigating circumstances involve the use of drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the use of drugs or alcohol intoxication can reduce the penalty in a crime because the person was not entirely in the right frame of mind when the crime was committed.

I wonder how the drunk driving law fits into this? Many people kill others unintentionally every year due to drunk driving. I think that if the person has a history of drunk driving offenses then it would be considered to be aggravating circumstances and the person would probably receive a more severe punishment.

If it was the first time offense the punishment would probably fall on the lighter side. I think that dui

law should be the same no matter what state you are charged in.

They should all be considered felony offenses even for first time offenders. To me there is no excuse for driving drunk because everyone knows the law and everyone knows what the potential dangers are when choosing to drink and drive.

Post 1

Mitigating circumstances are often allowable to courts on a case by cases basis, and it can depend a lot on the judge and jury involved. In general, though, they usually are not enough to get someone acquitted, though they could possibly lead to a lighter sentence.

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