What are Aggravating Factors in a Criminal Case?

criminal law

If you’re charged with a crime, you’ll want to know what are aggravating factors for your potential sentence. A statute may spell out a range of possible punishments, but some facts or issues can increase your sentence. Depending on the crime and the factor, your sentence could be substantially longer.

If you are accused of a crime in Illinois, hire the best criminal defense attorney that you can find. Prosecutors have the burden to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced defense team may be the difference between a lengthy jail term and getting back to your life.

What are Aggravating Factors in Sentencing?

If the prosecution establishes certain facts, these factors can increase your sentence. The legislature created them so the punishment would better fit the crime. A crime may have minimum and maximum sentences, so they play a role in determining where in that range you’ll be.

A sentencing judge must consider the factors when deciding the outcome, but a judge can decide to look past the fact that your actions fit into an aggravating factor when determining your sentence.

The opposite of aggravating factors are mitigating factors. They are issues that could mean a lesser sentence would be more fair. If both are present, the judge will need to balance the two.

What are Aggravating Factors in Illinois?

What are examples of aggravating factors? In Illinois, they include:

  • The defendant’s conduct caused or threatened to cause serious harm.
  • The defendant’s had a prior history of criminal offenses.
  • The defendant held public office and the crime related to its duties.
  • The defendant held a position where their duties included preventing this specific offense or bringing those committing the offense to justice.
  • The sentence should deter others from committing the same offense.
  • The victim was 60 or older.
  • The victim was disabled.
  • The defendant targeted the victim due to their perceived race, color, creed, gender, or other protected class. 
  • The offense occurred at a place of worship around or during the time of a service. 
  • The defendant was out on bail, serving probation or parole at the time of the crime.

The legislature creates rules for society. In determining these aggravating factors, the Illinois legislature decided that some actions by particular people (someone in a position of trust, out on bail or with a criminal record) against specific victims (the elderly, the disabled, or someone targeted because of their race), done in a way that impacts society (serious harm happened) may deserve additional punishment to deter others from doing the same.

How are Aggravating Factors Addressed in a Criminal Case?

The prosecution must prove an aggravating factor exists, along with the elements of the alleged crime. A defense attorney needs to address not just preventing a conviction but must cast doubt on evidence of an aggravating factor. If the defendant is convicted, if there is not sufficient evidence to support a factor, their sentencing should be lighter.

The prosecution would argue the aggravating factors are present and should impact sentencing. The defense would claim the prosecution hasn’t made its case for aggravating factors, but they shouldn’t affect sentencing even if it did. The defense may try to blunt the impact of aggravating factors by showing mitigating factors exist, too.

What are Examples of Aggravating Factors?

Aggravating factors are a genuine concern for criminal defendants and their attorneys. Some examples are:

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced in June to 22.5 years in prison for killing George Floyd, whose death was caused by Chauvin’s kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, reports Newsweek. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Aggravating factors leading to his sentence were his abuse of his position of trust and authority; he treated Floyd with “particular cruelty”; the crime occurred in front of at least four minors; and three others actively participated in the crime.
  • A defendant who represented himself in a 2016 Belleville, Illinois, case was sentenced to 75 years for sexual assault and ten years for unlawful restraint. He was convicted of raping a teenage girl and tying up her brother. Aggravating factors impacting his sentence were the harm he caused the victims, his criminal history, and the necessity of deterring others from committing these crimes.
  • A defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to serve fifty years in prison before being eligible for parole in a Kansas case. One of the factors leading to the sentence was the fact that the crime occurred in a church.
  • A former Indiana teacher convicted of child pornography charges in early 2021 was sentenced to 14 years in prison and three years suspended to supervised probation. Aggravating factors in his case were the fact that he was a schoolteacher at the time, and his victims were all younger than 12 years old.
  • A man convicted of a fatal hit-and-run accident in British Columbia was sentenced to six years in prison. Aggravating factors in his case included: traveling at high speed, his attempt to avoid detection and prosecution, multiple driving offenses (including after the accident), his use of cocaine before he drove, his risk to reoffend, and the fact that others warned him not to drive because he was so intoxicated.

These are all serious charges resulting in more jail time due to aggravating factors.

If There are Aggravating Factors in Your Case, Representing Yourself Would Be a Mistake

The criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense. We will examine the evidence, those involved, and will work with you to develop the most effective defense strategy possible. Our goals are to minimize the negative impact of the situation and protect your freedoms, liberties, and rights.

Trying to defend yourself in a case where the possible sentence could be life-changing could be a mistake that powerfully changes your future. Contact us for help today at 630-305-0222 to schedule a free consultation. We represent clients in north-central Illinois and the Greater Chicagoland area.