From 1917 to 1976, California used an indeterminate sentencing system, which allowed judges to sentence individuals to jail or prison for a range of time rather than a specific time. California adopted a determinate sentencing system in 1976. While indeterminate sentencing focuses on the perpetrator of the crime, determinate sentencing focuses on the nature of the crime. California now uses a determinate sentencing system

In 1976, California adopted the following public policy regarding the incarceration of criminal offenders as stated in California Penal Code § 1170 (a) PC:

The Legislature finds and declares that the purpose of sentencing is public safety achieved through punishment, rehabilitation, and restorative justice. When a sentence includes incarceration, this purpose is best served by terms that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense with provision for uniformity in the sentences of offenders committing the same offense under similar circumstances.

California’s determinate sentencing law is aimed at reducing the overcrowding of prisons by mandating shorter base sentences and restricting sentencing enhancements that consider the circumstances of the case. Under California’s determinate sentencing system, a defendant will receive one of three specified terms for each criminal law violation and must serve the minimum portion of the term as imposed. The sentence is then modified according to whether any aggravating or mitigating circumstances are present.

These include the following:

  • an upper term – the maximum sentence,
  • a middle term, and
  • a lower term – the minimum sentence.

Aggravating circumstances include:

  • Using excessive violence
  • Causing great bodily injury
  • Committing the crime against a vulnerable victim
  • Using a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime
  • Threatening witnesses
  • Stealing or destroying an item of great monetary value
  • Committing a hate crime
  • Committing the crime while on probation or parole
  • Committing the crime with numerous prior convictions
  • Committing the crime with prior convictions of increasing seriousness
  • Engaging in violent conduct that indicates that the perpetrator is a danger to society

Mitigating circumstances include:

  • Having only a minor role in the offense
  • Acting in response to aggressive conduct or force initiated by the victim
  • Believing that you were the subject of theft
  • Committing the crime with no prior criminal record
  • Committing the crime while suffering from a mental or physical condition significantly reducing culpability for the crime
  • Acknowledging wrongdoing for the crime before arrest
  • Believing that the criminal conduct was legal
  • Using caution to avoid harming people or property during the commission of the criminal act
  • Being motivated to provide necessities for family

The greater the number of mitigating factors present in a case, the less severe the final sentence. The greater the number of aggravating factors present in a case, the harsher the sentence. Seeking the knowledge and guidance of experienced criminal defense counsel can help ensure that every appliable mitigating factor is applied to your sentence if you face a conviction of criminal charges.

John Patrick Dolan is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law, the highest achievement awarded by the State Bar of California to attorneys in the field of criminal law. The advice, guidance, and representation of experienced criminal defense counsel may be crucial to achieving the best possible result in any criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here

List Of Mitigating And Aggravating Sentencing Circumstances