Legal Dictionary

extenuating circumstances

Legal Definition of extenuating circumstances

Noun

extenuating circumstances

  1. Plural form of extenuating circumstance.

Synonyms


Definition of extenuating circumstances

Further reading

In law, extenuating circumstances in criminal cases are unusual or extreme facts leading up to or attending the commission of the offense which, though an offense has been committed without legal justification or excuse, mitigate or reduce its gravity from the point of view of punishment or moral opprobrium.

According to English procedure, the jury has no power to determine the punishment to be awarded for an offense. The sentence, with certain exceptions in capital cases, is within the sole discretion of the judge, subject to the statutory prescriptions as to the kind and maximum of punishment. It is common practice for juries to add to their verdict, guilty or not guilty, a rider recommending the accused to mercy on the ground of grave provocation received, or other circumstances which in their view should mitigate the penalty.

Quite independently of any recommendation by the jury, the judge is entitled to take into account matters proved during the trial, or laid before him/her after verdict, as a guide to determining the quantum of punishment.

Under French law (Code d'instruction criminelle, art. 345), it is the sole right and the duty of a jury in a criminal case to pronounce whether or not the commission of the offense was attended by extenuating circumstances (circonstances atténuantes). They are not bound to say anything about the matter, but the whole or the majority may qualify the verdict by finding extenuation, and if they do, the powers of the court to impose the maximum punishment are taken away and the sentence to be pronounced is reduced in accordance with the scale laid down in art. 463 of the Code penal. The most important result of this rule in earlier times was to enable a jury to prevent the infliction of capital punishment for murder (now abolished).

In cases of what is termed "crime passionnel," French juries, when they do not acquit, almost invariably find extenuation; and a like verdict has become common even in the case of cold-blooded and sordid murders.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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