A Broward domestic violence conviction can have devastating consequences for a defendant: Jail time, lengthy/expensive batterer’s intervention courses, strict probation rules, no contact orders, child custody/divorce case implications, etc. But even if you were unable to avoid the conviction, a Broward domestic violence criminal defense lawyer may still have another card to play: Mitigating factors.
Also sometimes called “mitigating circumstances,” these are factors that can compel the court to impose a lower sentence – possibly even one that dips below statutory guidelines for the offense.
As your Broward criminal defense lawyer can explain, mitigating factors are not excuses. Unlike affirmative defenses, mitigating circumstances don’t assert that the actions were legally justifiable or support exoneration. Instead, the assertion is that the defendant’s actions can be partially explained/better understood in light of the mitigating circumstances. It’s not saying that the defendant acted legally, but that he/she/they should be shown some mercy in sentencing.
As noted in F.S. 921.0024, judges aren’t allowed to depart from the lowest possible sentence in felony cases UNLESS there are factors or circumstances that would reasonably justify doing so. It’s up to your defense attorney to make the case for mitigating circumstances.
Among the mitigating circumstances that might be considered:
- The defendant was an accomplice, and a relatively minor participant.
- The defendant’s capacity to appreciate the criminal nature of the conduct was substantially impaired.
- The defendant requires specialized treatment for a mental disorder unrelated to abuse or disorder or for a physical disability AND the defendant is willing to undergo that treatment.
- The need for restitution to be paid to the victim outweighs the benefit of locking up the defendant in jail/prison, where they will be unable to earn a meaningful paycheck.
- The victim was the aggressor, initiator, provoker, or willing participant in the incident.
- The defendant was under extreme duress or was being dominated by another person.
- The defendant cooperated with prosecutors to resolve the current offense or other offenses.
- The offense was unsophisticated (not planned) and isolated, and the defendant has shown remorse.
There are also downward departures for those convicted of nonviolent offenses, though that doesn’t apply in Florida domestic violence cases. It should also be noted that while experts and society-at-large increasingly recognizes substance abuse as a legitimate illness, it cannot be cited as a mitigating factor and does not justify a downward departure from the allowable criminal case sentencing range.
If the judge does allow mitigating circumstances to justify a downward departure from the otherwise lowest possible sentence, the appellate court can’t undo the extent of that mitigation. However, they can review – and possibly reverse – the fact that the mitigating circumstances were considered in the first place.
Effective criminal defense attorneys can successfully present mitigating circumstances to convince the court that while the defendant’s actions aren’t excusable, the defendant isn’t a monster and they deserve some amount of leniency.
Some examples of situations that have been presented to the court to garner leniency in South Florida domestic violence cases:
- The defendant was themselves a victim of child abuse, which left lasting psychological scars that can stunt their emotional growth and leave them unequipped to handle intense feelings of frustration or anger in a healthy, non-violent way.
- The defendant had a sudden, explosive, uncharacteristic reaction to an emotionally devastating situation. A prime example would be discovering a cheating spouse. This would not justify violence, but it might be considered as a mitigating circumstance.
- The defendant struggled with mental illness. For those who have served in the military or in police work, sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be triggered in stressful situations. Again, it does not excuse violence, but it may serve to explain it and justify leniency.
- The defendant was normally the person being abused. It is not uncommon for someone who is a long-term victim of abuse to “turn” on the person who is typically the primary aggressor. This is not the same as self-defense, but a Broward defense lawyer can argue mitigating circumstances that warrant a downward departure.
Call Broward Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
MITIGATION PARADIGMS: WHAT REDUCES CRIMINAL SENTENCES, EXPLANATION OR EXCUSE? Oct. 2015, By Chance Meyer, Florida Bar Journal
More Blog Entries:
Broward Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Affirmative Defenses, Dec. 7, 2023, Broward Criminal Defense Attorney Blog