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Similar crimes, different punishments: The role of mitigation

How can two or more people be guilty of the same offense, yet receive different sentences? It's often due to the degree of culpability involved and mitigation.

Take, for example, the college admissions scandal that's been in the news. Wealthy parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, paid to secure spots for their children in different universities of their choice through various means of deception. Some parents paid to have their children's college entrance exams fixed. Others paid to have coaches draft their students for a college team -- even though the student didn't play the sport.

Many of the parents who have already admitted guilt in their case have submitted briefs detailing the reason for their actions, detailing intensely personal issues like eating disorders, drug addiction and severe medical problems among their children. In essence, they've all tried to provide the judge with good reasons to mitigate their sentences (to more or less success, depending on who you ask).

Even if you're completely prepared to acknowledge your guilt in a white collar criminal case, the presentation of mitigating factors is important to your defense. It's natural, after all, to hope that you can prevail when asking the prosecutor for a lesser sentence, and the judge to grant one. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 32(a) actually require the court to give defendants a chance to present mitigating factors and ask for leniency in a case before sentence is passed.

Some of the most important mitigating factors include the answer to questions like:

  • What was your motivation? For example, did you embezzle out of a desire to keep your home rather than greed?
  • What was your level of involvement in the crime? Were you a major player or a bit actor?
  • Are you a first-time offender? Have you always been law-abiding until now?
  • Are you remorseful? Have you demonstrated your remorse in some way?

Skillful presentation of mitigating factors can assist you even when things look their darkest. Find out more about your options for a defense.

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