The Role of Extenuating Circumstances in Criminal Cases

Extenuating circumstances are facts that can make a defendant’s conduct more understandable in the context of a crime that has been committed. One example is that if a woman is forced by an abusive boyfriend to accompany him in a criminal act that he has planned and carried out. Other extenuating circumstances can include mental illness, addiction, if the accused is a minor or played just a small part in the crime.

Another example of an extenuating circumstance — sometimes referred to as a mitigating circumstance — is when a teen receives a nude photo of a classmate. Under many state laws, just the possession of a nude photo of a minor can be considered a crime (child pornography). However, in this example, the teen may only be charged with sexting, a less serious crime, or not be charged at all since the only role he played in the crime was to receive a text with a nude photo.

Prosecutors often consider extenuating circumstances when deciding whether to charge someone with a crime. If there are mitigating circumstances, a prosecutor may decide to go with a lesser charge, or decline to file any charges, especially if it is likely a jury will not convict the defendant because the extenuating circumstances were a large factor in the defendant’s involvement in the crime.

Police officers also have the discretion to take extenuating circumstances into consideration when deciding whether or not to make an arrest. If a special needs child steals candy from a convenience store, an officer may take the child’s diminished mental capacity into consideration and not make an arrest.

Conversely, crimes with aggravating circumstances can lead to more severe or serious charges. This includes a defendant’s prior criminal history or if there is a victim who has been seriously injured or killed.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a full service criminal litigation and appellate law firm. We provide client-focused representation at all stages of the process, whether our clients are seeking to avoid charges, have been charged, or are seeking reversal of a conviction on appeal. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or dan@cogdell-law.com.

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