Sentencing guidelines typically have minimum and maximum thresholds that may be years apart. While judges do have considerable discretion in determining where along that range a defendant’s penalties should fall, they must first weigh all aggravating factors.
The Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains that aggravating circumstances increase the severity or culpability of an offense.
Here are just a few of these factors, as listed in Alaska Statute 12.55.155.
Factors relating to victims
During any criminal activity, if the offender harms someone, intentionally or not, the penalty could be worse. Creating a risk of imminent physical harm to at least three people who are not accomplices in the act, or acting deliberately cruel, even if there is no harm, could still increase the penalty.
If the offender knew or should have known that a victim was vulnerable because of a disability, age or other condition, or if the offender harmed the person because of race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, creed or sex, that could also increase the penalty. Evidence that the offender knew the victim is a judge, prosecuting attorney, law enforcement officer, first responder or other active officer or emergency responder on duty may lead to an increased sentence.
Factors relating to accomplices
Committing an offense to further illegal gang activity, to benefit the gang or at the direction of the gang may result in a higher penalty. If the defendant is at least 18 years old, having an accomplice who is a minor and at least three years younger is an aggravating factor.
Factors relating to prior convictions
A history of similar offenses, previous assault convictions or three or more felony convictions on record could result in a harsher penalty, as could committing an offense while on parole or probation.
Factors relating to the offense
Using a dangerous instrument to carry out the activity is an aggravating circumstance. Committing a series of offenses to further illegal business activities, or committing conduct intended to obtain substantial financial gain in situations where the risk of prosecution is slight could result in an increase in penalties.