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The Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances Surrounding Application of the Death Penalty

Florida is still one of several states in the United States which currently permits the use of the death penalty. With such high-profile homicide cases such as the Jodi Arias case and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (also known as the Boston Marathon Bomber), the death penalty is discussed and evaluated by juries to determine whether or not the criminal defendant who is found guilty of committed capital felonies should be sentenced to death.

Capital Felonies and The Death Penalty

There are many procedural steps that must be taken before a criminal defendant, who has been convicted of a crime, will get anywhere near a lethal injection or an electric chair. Nothing about capital felonies occurs overnight, as there are procedural due process rights that must be considered for a criminal defendant convicted of capital felony. The one thing to note is that juries serve an extremely important service, especially when it comes to the determination of whether capital punishment should apply or not. This is because criminal defendants who are convicted of capital felonies do not automatically receive the death penalty.

The Penalty Phase

There is a second phase of trial, known as the penalty phase, where after a jury has convicted a criminal defendant of a capital felony, the prosecution and defense are return in front of the courtroom to argue the type of sentence that should be applied to the now-convicted criminal defendant. It is up to the jury to weigh the arguments in their entirety and make the ultimate decision whether the criminal defendant’s actions were so heinous, and they were committed with such malice and intent, that the death penalty is the only worthy punishment for the defendant’s actions.

Difference between The Trial Phase and The Penalty Phase

This phase of trial is different than the initial criminal proceedings that the public knows. This phase of trial looks not at the guilt of the criminal defendant (which has already been determined in the first phase), but assesses the background history, personality traits, and the actions and intent of the criminal defendant during the commission of the capital felony to see whether this person truly deserves to be put to death.

Distinction Between the Aggravating Circumstances and Mitigating Circumstances

Though each jurisdiction has different rules of procedure and evidence with regards to the penalty phase, generally the prosecution and defense are given an opportunity to put forth evidence that either shows aggravating or mitigating circumstances surrounding the defendant and his commission of the capital felony. Aggravating circumstances are those that provide reasoning in promotion of the death penalty being the correct penalty of the criminal defendant. Mitigating circumstances are those that help provide reasoning why the death penalty is not deserved.

Evidence of Aggravating Circumstances

Evidence of aggravating circumstances shows that the defendant acted in a manner that was more violent or gruesome than necessary. For example in Jodi Arias’s crime, one of the aggravating factors in her case to show the death penalty is deserving is the heinous manner in which she committed the murder of her boyfriend. In the Medical Examiner’s report, it was determined that Arias stabbed Travis Alexander 27 to 29 times, she slit his throat, and shot him in the head. This type of gruesomeness would be put forth as an aggravating circumstance showing the brutality of Jodi Arias’s nature and how deserving a death penalty sentence might be.

Evidence of Mitigating Circumstances

On the other hand, the defense attorney’s role in the penalty phase is to show mitigating circumstances, which might help show the criminal defendant in a better light. For example, showing that the criminal defendant was the subject of significant domestic abuse might help to frame his/her actions in a way that shows that he/she had been a victim for so many years and possibly cracked from the abuse. In the case of the Boston Marathon Bomber, one of the mitigating factors that the defense will probably use is the influence that his ideologue, older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The Checks and Balances of the Penalty Phase

Overall, aggravating and mitigating circumstances are part of the checks and balances process whereby the jury gets a fuller picture, beyond just the commission of the crime, of the person that they are considering for the death penalty. The hope is that by receiving a comprehensive picture, juries will only call for the death penalty when it aptly applies.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Capital felonies in Florida come with significant penalties attached, the worst being the death penalty. If you have been accused of committing a capital felony, it is important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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