A judge may be persuaded to increase a criminal sentence if the victim suffered severe psychological harm as a result. This is something your defence team needs to be aware of, as it could impact the eventual outcome of your case.

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Psychological harm as an aggravating factor

If you are found guilty of a criminal offence, the judge will decide what punishment to hand out. This decision is not made random; rather, judges refer to the sentencing guidelines, which set out appropriate sentences for different types of a criminal offence. A judge should only stray from these guidelines in certain circumstances, such as the presence of ‘aggravating factors’.

An aggravating factor is anything that increases the severity of a criminal act. For example, it could be that you played a leading role in the execution of a crime, or you used a weapon. Or, it could be that the victim(s) of your crime suffered psychological harm as a direct result. This might be bereaved family members in a murder case or the injured party in an assault case.

How does a judge know if psychological harm has occurred?

Ultimately, it is the judge who determines whether psychological harm has been suffered by the victim. However, the victim does not have to undergo a medical examination. Instead, a judge may assess that psychological harm has been suffered on the basis of evidence from the victim, such as evidence contained in their Victim Personal Statement (VPS).

The judge must also determine whether this psychological harm is ‘severe’. This is an important differentiation, as severe psychological harm places the case into a higher category, meaning your sentence will be increased further. Otherwise, the presence of psychological harm is a potential aggravating factor, which may or may not increase the sentence.

The judge’s decision

Judges must only act on evidence, such as that contained within a VPS. The demeanour of the victim may also be taken into account while he or she gives evidence. If the victim’s psychological harm is considered severe, the judge must give reasons for this decision in the sentencing remarks.

The judge must not make assumptions as to the effect of the offence on the victim, aside from certain circumstances. If there is any indication that the judge’s decision is wrong – perhaps because there is not sufficient evidence to support the decision – then it will be possible to raise the matter on appeal.

Double counting

It is also important to note that in certain situations, the sentencing guidelines already take into account the victim’s psychological harm. This includes crimes where psychological harm is inherent in the nature of the offence, including certain sexual offences.

Sentencing Outcomes

If the victim’s impact statement points towards psychological harm, we will adapt our strategy to ensure we address the issue. This is essential, as it could affect your sentencing outcome. That is why you should always ask an experienced criminal defence lawyer to act on your behalf.

If you have been accused of a criminal offence, contact us now at Ashmans Solicitors.

For a free initial enquiry, call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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