In North Carolina, felony sentencing is determined by structured sentencing guidelines. To determine which cell a person’s sentencing range falls into, courts consider applicable criminal convictions, mitigating factors, and aggravating factors.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
Generally, aggravating factors must be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden is on the State to prove such factors. On the other hand, the defendant must prove mitigating factors to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence.
Mitigating and aggravating factors are typically alleged in an attempt to persuade the judge from sentencing the defendant in the presumptive range. The decision to depart from the presumptive range is within the court’s discretion. In light of the aggravating and mitigating factors, the court may choose to veer from the presumptive range and instead sentence the defendant in the mitigating or aggravating range. Please note that, because this decision is discretionary, the court may order a presumptive sentence even after finding that mitigating factors outweigh aggravating factors.
Mitigating factors are set forth in North Carolina General Statute 15A-1340.16(e) and are as follows:
- The defendant committed the offense under duress, coercion, threat, or compulsion that was insufficient to constitute a defense but significantly reduced the defendant’s culpability.
- The defendant was a passive participant or played a minor role in the commission of the offense.
- The defendant was suffering from a mental or physical condition that was insufficient to constitute a defense but significantly reduced the defendant’s culpability for the offense.
- The defendant’s age, immaturity, or limited mental capacity at the time of commission of the offense significantly reduced the defendant’s culpability for the offense.
- The defendant has made substantial or full restitution to the victim.
- The victim was more than 16 years of age and was a voluntary participant in the defendant’s conduct or consented to it.
- The defendant aided in the apprehension of another felon or testified truthfully on behalf of the prosecution in another prosecution of a felony.
- The defendant acted under strong provocation, or the relationship between the defendant and the victim was otherwise extenuating.
- The defendant could not reasonably foresee that the defendant’s conduct would cause or threaten serious bodily harm or fear, or the defendant exercised caution to avoid such consequences.
- The defendant reasonably believed that the defendant’s conduct was legal.
- Prior to arrest or at an early stage of the criminal process, the defendant voluntarily acknowledged wrongdoing in connection with the offense to a law enforcement officer.
- The defendant has been a person of good character or has had a good reputation in the community in which the defendant lives.
- The defendant is a minor and has reliable supervision available.
- The defendant has been honorably discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States.
- The defendant has accepted responsibility for the defendant’s criminal conduct.
- The defendant has entered and is currently involved in or has successfully completed a drug treatment program or an alcohol treatment program subsequent to arrest and prior to trial.
- The defendant supports the defendant’s family.
- The defendant has a support system in the community.
- The defendant has a positive employment history or is gainfully employed.
- The defendant has a good treatment prognosis, and a workable treatment plan is available.
- Any other mitigating factor reasonably related to the purposes of sentences.
This blog is intended for informational purposes only and not a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense attorney. If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina or South Carolina, contact us to discuss your options.