What are Mitigating Circumstances?

Definition: Mitigating circumstances are a set of situations that have affected the decision of an individual to engage in an unlawful activity. These circumstances are considered by courts of law to evaluate the length or the severity of a given legal sentence.

What Does Mitigating Circumstance Mean?

These elements are not considered to be a reason to justify or excuse the accused party from being properly punished for his acts. Instead, these situations are incorporated into the judgment process to award the individual with certain reliefs regarding the sentence. A person with mental disabilities, unhealthy family environment, young age or certain illness are considered to be subject to mitigating circumstances.

In the light of these factors, a judge can either reduce the penalty or prison duty period or assign a special treatment such as house arrest or reclusion in a psychiatric hospital. The extent at which a mitigating circumstance is recognized and incorporated to the judgment varies widely depending on the jurisdiction, the judge and the facts at hand. In certain particular situations a mitigating circumstance might lead to a non guilty verdict, but this is not a frequent ruling. People with no criminal record or prior offense are normally awarded with less severe sentences, since their misconducts are normally derived from mitigating circumstances.


Johnny was recently pulled over for speeding and after being checked for alcohol by the police officer he has been found guilty of driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages. Johnny doesn’t have a criminal record and it appears he has some sort of mental disability. He was coming home from a party and one of his friends decided to influence him to drive in this condition as a challenge.

Since Johnny is defined to be mentally incapable to identify the threats of such situations the judge sentenced him only to serve a couple of months of community service and revoked his license for two months, given the mitigating circumstances. This is a considerably less severe sentence than the one established by the law for such unlawful acts.

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