Mitigating Circumstances in Law: Definition, Meaning & Examples

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  • 0:04 Mitigating Circumstances
  • 0:33 Definition
  • 0:57 Meaning
  • 1:28 Examples
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

Mitigating circumstances are factors in the commission of a crime that lessen or reduce its moral and legal consequences. These factors are weighed during sentencing against aggravating factors that may increase the penalty for a crime.

Mitigating Circumstances

You've just been pulled over, bright lights are flashing behind you, and the police officer is asking, ''Do you know why you were pulled over?''. Perhaps you have the urge to say, ''I was going with the flow of traffic'' or ''My wife is going into labor.'' What you're searching for is mitigating circumstances to avoid getting a ticket. As we will see, mitigating circumstances in criminal justice and sentencing can extend to a variety of controversial areas.


Mitigating circumstances are conditions and factors that do not excuse or justify an offense, but that are taken into consideration when considering the consequences of the legal and moral culpability of the guilty party. Mitigating circumstances are weighed during sentencing against their opposing aggravating factors, which increase the moral and offensive nature of the crime in question.


Let's go back to the case of the traffic stop, where your excuse may not actually mitigate your circumstances. In order to be a mitigating factor in the eyes of the law, the circumstance must be clearly connected and relevant to the offending action. So, for example, pointing out that someone else was driving faster really isn't a mitigating circumstance because it's not relevant to your action. By comparison, noting that you have an emergency is relevant to why you were speeding and provides a motive for that action.

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