Sometimes for a criminal defendant in a Tennessee court simply denying any wrongdoing may not be enough, especially if it seems likely that the jury will find that at least some culpability exists. The criminal justice system does not always lend itself to black-or-white outcome; a defendant is not always either acquitted or given the maximum punishment.
The Tennessee legislature has anticipated that there can be shades of grey when it comes to a defendant's behaviors during or after the commission of a criminal act, and has built into the law examples of conduct that can make a difference for the court to consider. These are referred to as "mitigating factors."
The law, Title 40 of Chapter 35, section 113, lists 12 types of mitigating factors, plus an additional "catch-all" provision if the defendant exhibits behavior that the court may wish to consider as mitigating even though it is not specifically included in the other 12. These mitigating factors include:
- Restraint on the part of the defendant: his conduct did not cause or pose a threat of serious injury, or he played only a minor role in the commission of the crime
- Lack of criminal intent: the defendant acted under duress, or did the criminal act under circumstances so unusual that it appears that he was not motivated by a desire to break the law
- The defendant lacked the judgment necessary to qualify as criminal intent: he was too young, or too old, or was suffering from a mental or physical handicap (note, however, that voluntary intoxication does not qualify here)
- The defendant was motivated mainly by the desire to provide necessities for his family, or himself
- The defendant either tried in good faith to compensate the victims of the crime, or cooperated with law enforcement authorities to either locate or recover property or persons involved in the crime, or to uncover offenses or apprehend other offenders
The summary above is not comprehensive, and as referred to above the court has leeway to consider other mitigating conduct not precisely laid out in the law. What is key to remember is that if you are accused of a crime, even if acquittal is not possible your defense attorney can still seek ways to negotiate for an outcome less than the worse-case scenario, before or during trial.