Criminal Defense

What Are ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ in Criminal Law?

October 09, 2023 by Madison Ferguson in Criminal Defense  Rights  
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Alan Colie was found not guilty due to ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ involving a Youtube prank gone wrong.

What Are ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ in Criminal Law?

Extenuating circumstances, also known as mitigating factors, refer to pertinent facts or details that are crucial for comprehending a situation. Such comprehension may lead to a less severe interpretation of an individual’s actions during the event or a reduction in their culpability for those actions. In a criminal trial, the presentation of extenuating circumstances may result in a lesser charge or a mitigated punishment, such as a shorter sentence. In civil cases, extenuating circumstances may lead to a reduction in the amount of damages awarded.

Mitigating factors may encompass various circumstances that could reduce the culpability or severity of a defendant’s offense. Such factors, according to California Rules of Court Rule 4.423, may include, but are not limited to, the defendant’s age, mental impairment or disorder, substance dependence or addiction, if they acted under duress, culpability, lack of a criminal history, or peripheral involvement in the criminal activity. These factors may be taken into account by the court or the jury when determining the appropriate sentence or punishment for the defendant.

Conversely, aggravating factors represent the opposite of extenuating circumstances and may result in an increased punishment in a criminal context.

How Mitigating or Extenuating Circumstances Are Used

The concept of extenuating circumstances can vary among judges and may include factors that impact sentencing or anything short of a defense. Different states may also have different definitions of what constitutes a mitigating circumstance.

For instance, possessing any nude or sexual image of a child is considered a crime, known as child pornography. However, some states take mitigating circumstances into account. In these states, if a teenager possesses a nude cell phone picture of another teen, they may be charged with the less severe crime of teen sexting. Even if the law does not specifically address the defendant’s age, in many states, if the defendant is also a minor and the child in the image willingly sent it, the punishment will be less severe compared to an adult with a collection of computer child pornography.

Throughout the criminal justice system, decision-makers like police officers, prosecutors, judges, and jurors always consider mitigating circumstances when handling a case. For example, suppose a person with a developmental disability steals a candy bar from a store; a police officer might choose not to make an arrest. In that case, a prosecutor may not file criminal charges, the jury may decide not to convict, or a judge may impose a lighter sentence.

How Extenuating Circumstances Impact Your Personal Injury Claim

The impact of extenuating circumstances on personal injury claims is a common consideration in cases involving automobile accidents and some types of personal injury. Insurance companies may attempt to reduce payouts by assigning partial blame to the injured party. Still, factors such as faulty equipment or hazardous road conditions can be taken into account and litigated. Examples of such factors include slippery roads, gas or oil spills, poor signage, or another driver’s negligence, causing loss of vehicle control in single-car accidents.

In cases where the injured party does not believe they were at fault for a single-car crash, an attorney can evaluate the circumstances of the incident and identify factors beyond the injured party’s control. A skilled personal injury attorney can use these factors to defend the injured party and negotiate with the opposing party or insurance company. Additionally, they can provide guidance on navigating instances where the settlement may be taxable, and it is important to review finances together after a settlement is reached.

Extenuating circumstances may also impact the enforcement of the statute of limitations. In California, the injured party has two years from the date of the accident or injury to file a lawsuit against the opposing party, with only a few exceptions. If the injured party was unable to file the lawsuit in time due to health or medical reasons, an extension may be granted.

In the event of an arrest or criminal charge, it is advisable to seek the counsel of a qualified attorney if extenuating circumstances are believed to be present. A seasoned criminal defense attorney possesses the expertise to elucidate the law and provide guidance on effectively presenting extenuating circumstances to secure the most favorable outcome in the case.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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