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The Value of Mitigation

A federal judge in Florida recently sentenced a prominent area accountant to more than six years in prison after she was found guilty of running a tax fraud scheme. According to a report in the Sun Sentinel, the 61-year-old woman was highly esteemed within the area’s Jamaican community, where she offered her services as an accountant.

The woman was reportedly a well-known activist, who contributed considerable time and money to less fortunate residents of south Florida, as well as residents of her native country, Jamaica. Her elaborate fundraising parties helped to drive her notoriety within the community, along with her accounting services.

According to court documents, the defendant was accused of falsifying hundreds of tax returns and diverting the refund money into her and her spouse’s accounts over a period of five years. She allegedly created two tax refunds for her clients, filing the fraudulent one. She would then reportedly keep the illegal refund amounts.

The Sentencing

Within the seven months since pleading guilty to fraud , the article states that the defendant worked to pay more than $1.2 million of the $3.5 million in restitution that she owes to the government. Attorneys on both sides agreed that these efforts should be awarded with a smaller sentence of three to five years. While numerous community members spoke on her behalf, the judge reportedly stated that a few victim impact statements weighed heavily on his decision to hand down a six and a half year prison sentence. He reportedly stated that amount of loss “nullifies any good deeds or mitigation there may be in this case.”

Though the judge in this case was not swayed by the defendant’s extenuating circumstances, mitigation can still prove important in the determination of a sentence. As stated in the news report, even the prosecution asked for a smaller sentence based on mitigating circumstances.

What is Mitigation?

Mitigation is considered the “alleviation, abatement or diminution of a penalty or punishment imposed by law.“ Many often hear the term “mitigating circumstances” discussed in criminal defense. The courts have come to define this term as information that does not justify the behavior in question, but “may be considered as extenuating or reducing the degree of moral culpability.”

Mitigating circumstances can come in a variety of forms, including:

  • Extenuating circumstances experienced by the accused, like extraordinary financial debt, health-related problems or familial burdens;
  • Forgiveness of the victims;
  • Efforts to repay restitution or make victims whole;
  • Charitable contributions;
  • Cultural barriers;
  • Mental health impairment; and/or
  • History of trauma and/or abuse.

When determining a sentence, judges can exercise discretion in how long the punishment will last. The presentation of mitigating circumstances can result in a more lenient sentence for the conviction. Gathering this information for presentation is as much your responsibility as it is your attorney’s responsibility. Your lawyer may not know what you don’t tell him. That’s why it is important to remain open and honest with him or her about your situation and any motivation for your actions.

With the right information, your attorney may be able to mitigate your sentence all the way down to time served or community service. Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC at (305) 330-3905 for a free and confidential consultation in Miami.

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