Mitigating Circumstances Law and Legal Definition

Mitigating Circumstances refer to those circumstances that help to reduce the penalty of an accused upon conviction. They are generally adduced as defense evidence by an accused during the sentencing phase. They provide the reason why the defendant should not receive the death sentence or other serious penalties. Mitigating circumstances will not excuse or justify the criminal conduct of an accused. It is out of mercy and fairness that the court considers these circumstances. Mitigating circumstances include lack of prior criminal record, abusive childhood, mental problems, defendant's youth, and defendant's showing of remorse. The fact that the offence is committed out of a heat of passion will be treated by the court as a mitigating circumstance to reduce the punishment awarded to the accused. Hence, mitigating circumstances helps to reduce the penalties associated with a crime. For example, if a person kills his/her spouse who is having an affair, the fact that s/he caught him/her engaged in infidelity is considered a mitigating circumstance. Here an accused is not excused from killing, but his/her crime is seen as more understandable.

The following is an example of a case law on mitigating circumstances:

In In re Std. Jury Instructions in Crim. Cases--Report No. 2005-2, 22 So. 3d 17, 20 (Fla. 2009), the court had observed that a mitigating circumstance is not limited to the facts surrounding the crime but can be anything in the life of a defendant which might indicate the death penalty is not appropriate. A mitigating circumstance can be defined broadly as 'any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense' that reasonably may serve as a basis for imposing a sentence less than death".