How Do Mitigating Factors Affect Sentencing?

Oct 27, 2021

Mitigating factors can influence the outcome of a criminal sentence, reducing the severity of the penalty.

When a judge in Georgia is sentencing a defendant in a criminal case, they must consider specific, mandatory sentencing restrictions. But some aspects such as mitigating factors can influence the outcome of the sentence, reducing the penalty.


A mitigating factor is any fact, event, or information presented to the court of law regarding the defendant that might result in more lenient charges. The defendant remains guilty for their crime, but the judge reduces the severity of their sentence or even dismisses the charges in a more compelling case.


  • Minor role in the crime – A popular mitigating factor is that the defendant played a possibly minor role in the crime. In a scenario where someone knowingly drives a getaway car in a robbery, they’re likely to face lighter charges than the person who committed the robbery at gunpoint.
  • No-harm circumstance – If you didn’t harm anyone and acted in a manner less likely to hurt a person, you might receive a lenient sentence. For instance, a car thief approaches a driver and orders them out of the car without causing any physical harm. In this case, the defendant’s action is still a crime, but the court might consider reducing the sentence because the defendant acted humanely towards another person while committing the crime.
  • Self-defense – If you committed a crime while defending yourself, you might get a lighter sentence. This usually happens when the defendant is assaulted first, and then they react with too much force than necessary in self-defense.
  • Addiction – While alcohol or drug addiction isn’t an excuse to commit a crime, it can be a mitigating factor in court. For instance, if you had shown a substantial effort or genuine will at rehabilitation but relapsed into using drugs and caught shoplifting while high, the judge might be lenient on your case.
  • Emotional or financial stress – Sometimes, crimes committed out of emotional or financial stress can have a “necessity” defense. This means the defendant committed a crime out of an urge to provide a life necessity such as food. For example, a mother steals groceries to feed her starving family because she is straining financially.

Generally, mitigating factors don’t provide clear justification for any criminal offense. However, they are considered to reduce the severity of a sentence because of the circumstances. The judge will weigh mitigating factors against facts and evidence to pass a ruling.


If you’re accused of a crime, your chances of defeating the prosecution are slim, and your future is uncertain. At Ryan Swingle Law, our Athens criminal defense attorneys will work with you side by side to build a solid defense to help get you off the hook. Please contact us today to set up a consultation with our lead lawyer, Ryan Swingle.