The Impact of Aggravating Factors and Mitigating Circumstances on Capital Felony Sentencing

Once a criminal defendant has been convicted for a capital offense, the defendant will then go on to the next set of proceedings: the sentencing phase. This is a separate proceeding from the trial where evidence is brought in to prove whether or not the criminal defendant committed a capital offense beyond a reasonable doubt. For a criminal offense that rises to the level of a capital offense, it will be during this sentencing phase where the trial judge and the jury will determine whether the criminal defendant should receive a life sentence or the death penalty. Criminal offenses that are considered to be capital in Florida include homicide, offenses committed as a result of the felony murder rule, and sexual assault and battery where the victim is a minor.

If you have been arrested for committing a capital offense, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can guide you through the criminal justice system. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

The Difference Between Capital Felonies, Life Felonies, and Felonies in Florida

The difference between capital felonies, life felonies, and felonies involve the intended sentence and the violent nature of the offense. With capital felonies, a life sentence or the death penalty are on the line. With a life felony, only a life sentence is permitted and not the death penalty. With regular felonies, the sentence may be dictated by a mandatory minimum sentence or might be up to the discretion of the court.

Capital Felonies: What May Affect a Person’s Sentence?

In cases of capital felonies, there is no set requirement that someone who commits a capital felony must receive the death penalty. During the sentencing phase, aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances are weighed against each other to determine whether, on a case-by-case basis, the criminal defendant deserves one or the other.

Aggravating Factors

Aggravating factors may be introduced to show that the defendant deserves the death penalty but the factors are limited to:

  • The criminal history of the criminal defendant, more specifically if he or she has been previously convicted of another capital felony or a felony where violence played a role;
  • The capital felony that is at the center of the conviction was a part of a larger criminal offense, and the capital felony occurred as a result of the criminal defendant’s engagement in other, felonious activity that threatened or used violence against another;
  • The capital felony was committed in an attempt to avoid capture or during the escape from custody;
  • The capital felony was committed for monetary or pecuniary gain;
  • The victim of the capital felony was under the age of 12 years old;
  • The victim was either a police officer while performing his/her duties or a member of a vulnerable population due to advanced age or mental disability;
  • The capital felony was committed due to the criminal defendant’s association with a gang; and/or
  • The criminal defendant is/was a sexual predator.
Mitigating Circumstances

Mitigating circumstances may help to reduce a felony sentence, or in the case of a capital felony, could tip the balance to where the criminal defendant is sentenced to a life sentence, not the death penalty. The following may be considered:

  • The criminal defendant does not have a criminal record or history;
  • The capital felony occurred while the defendant was suffering through extreme emotional or mental stress;
  • The capital felony was committed as a result of coercion or duress;
  • The defendant’s capacity and competency made it difficult for the defendant to fully appreciate the consequences of his/her actions;
  • The defendant was an accomplice with a minor role in the capital felony;
  • The age of the defendant when he/she committed the crime, if relevant; and
  • Any other factors that in the defendant’s history that might mitigate the necessity of the death penalty.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.