Criminal Justice and Mitigating Factors

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    Age

    • The courts view a youthful offender as less likely to have a hardened criminal mindset than an older offender. Considered at the same time as age, are immaturity and diminished mental capacity. The criminal justice system tries to treat both offenders and society fairly. Recognition that youth and immaturity make a person more susceptible to persuasion and peer influence gives the court the ability to focus on the rehabilitation of offenders who fall into this category while still protecting society from the dangers their actions cause.

    Heat of Passion

    • The heat of passion mitigating factor recognizes that a person who acts impulsively as a result of strong emotion has a different level of culpability than a person who coldly calculates the commission of a crime. This factor frequently comes into play when one spouse walks into a situation in which the other spouse is cheating and impulsively assaults or kills the other spouse or her partner. The offender committed an offense, but unique circumstances caused the emotion to flare. In these situations, the offender typically expresses immediate shock and remorse for his actions. The criminal justice system recognizes that such offenders do not have a tendency to commit additional crimes, so treats them differently than people who act in other circumstances.

    Lowest Level in the Class

    • Most criminal offenses have a range of conduct that fits within the definition of that crime. Judges in most jurisdictions also have a sentencing range they can apply to any given conviction. As an example, the Oregon criminal code defines theft of goods with a value of $100 and $1000 as a Class A misdemeanor. A judge can impose up to 1 year in jail for that offense. If everything else is the same, a person who stole a single item worth $101 logically gets a lesser sentence than a person who stole multiple items adding up to $998.

    Ability to Reform

    • If the justice system is to protect society, it must prevent people from becoming career criminals as much as possible. Rehabilitation provides a way to do this. Many criminal acts result from drug and alcohol addiction, from poor decision making, and from desperate circumstances. When the court identifies a probable cause for a person's criminal activity and can also see a way to remove the cause, the courts would rather fix the problem than simply locking the person away. This explains why people who enter treatment, who express remorse for their actions, or who make efforts to change their circumstances get reduced sentences, usually on the condition that they continue to make improvements.

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