You made a mistake. You got caught. Now, you’re facing white collar criminal charges and possible penalties that could put you behind bars for years to come.

Is there any hope of getting the judge to take a lenient approach to your sentence? Absolutely — sentences for any given crime can vary quite a bit depending on what mitigating circumstances are around.

So, what are mitigating circumstances?

In the interests of justice, defendants are permitted to present the court with any kind of explanation for their actions or a list of factors they’d like the judge to consider before passing a sentence. Commonly, mitigating factors include things like:

  • An explanation about the circumstances that led to the criminal activity. For example, personal or professional stress can sometimes cause someone to engage in risky behavior. So can untreated mental health conditions.
  • Evidence that you felt remorseful about your actions. You can’t undo a theft by paying back the money you embezzled, for example, but it does indicate that you were contrite about what happened.
  • Evidence that nobody suffered any serious harm (and was never likely to do so). It’s much easier to convince yourself that an action is acceptable if nobody is really in any danger or likely to lose their home or life savings over it. It’s also a lot easier for judges to forgive someone’s actions when nobody was injured.
  • The fact that it’s your first offense. If you’ve never been in trouble with the law before, there’s no reason to think that a single mistake makes you prone to criminal behavior.
  • The consequences you’ve already suffered as a result of your actions. Maybe you’ve lost your job as well as the respect of your family and friends. That in itself is a punishment.

Being charged with a white collar crime like fraud, embezzlement, insider trading or something similar can upend your entire world. It’s never too late to discuss your legal options with an experienced defense attorney.