What Exactly Are Mitigating Circumstances in a Washington Criminal Case?

Context matters. Our actions have consequences, but this doesn’t mean every action comes with the same exact consequences. We must consider the context of why an action took place and the person behind it’s ability to prevent the action.

In a Washington criminal trial, these are referred to as mitigating circumstances (as defined by RCW 9.94A.535). The court has specific guidelines that actually allow for these circumstances to be taken into consideration before punishment is handed down.

The team at Burke Brown Attorneys understands the intricacies of these laws and will apply the most effective defense available to our clients, including the exposure of mitigating circumstances during your criminal trial.

Mitigating Circumstances Tell the Story

Someone committed a crime. The court wants to punish this person for that crime. But, the story isn’t just the crime itself and the consequences. It’s everything that led up to it and what has happened since the act took place.

Mental health is one of the biggest mitigating circumstances that impact Washington criminal trials. Consider a situation where someone commits an impulsive violent act. We all know this isn’t an ideal outcome, but what if that person is under significant stress because of bullying, depression, and anxiety? Their ability to control impulses is hindered by elements out of their control.

Should this person receive the same punishment as someone who intentionally commits a violent act for their own pleasure? Of course not.

What if the Effort to Mitigate is Too Late?

What happens when a defendant wasn’t aware of the mitigating circumstances that contributed to their actions until after the event in question? If they have made a notable effort to mitigate any repeat circumstances (such as seeking out counseling, avoiding the individuals who put them at risk for impulsive actions, and relying on healthy habits), it’s relevant.

The potential of being a repeat offender increases the likelihood of a more severe punishment. If the court and prosecutor are informed of efforts in place to mitigate future actions and uncover the root issue, you have a better shot at preserving your freedom.

Mitigating Circumstances Open Up Negotiations with the Prosecutor

It’s not always a guarantee that a mental health diagnosis or similar mitigating circumstances are able to be entered into the record. In some cases, a negotiation with the prosecutor is necessary. These negotiations open the door for a number of possibilities, including entering the information on the record in front of a jury and getting a plea offer that significantly limits the sentencing guidelines.

Mitigating Circumstances are NOT an Excuse

Mitigating circumstances are not an excuse for the action that took place. Instead, they are a genuine effort to deter future actions and an explanation of the one (or multiple) that already took place.

If you are considered an unnecessary aggressor in your case, then it’s less likely that you would be given a lighter sentence based on mitigating circumstances. For instance, if you confront someone who you disagree with and this person attempts to separate themselves from the situation but you repeatedly follow and attack them then your case is going to be more difficult. You were given multiple opportunities to let it go and walk away but refused to. This is more of a conscious decision that the court won’t take lightly.

Tell Your Story in a Washington Criminal Case

We want to tell the whole story of your experience. You are more than just a single action and should not have your entire future ripped away because of it.

The team at Burke Brown Attorneys has extensive experience telling the stories of our clients and getting mitigating circumstances entered into the record to lighten or even entirely eliminate sentencing. Contact our office and make sure you have the best defense strategy when faced with criminal charges in Washington state.

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