Why are Only Bad Acts Good Sentencing Factors?

69 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2008 Last revised: 8 Aug 2013

See all articles by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law


Few pieces of information play a larger role in determining a criminal offender's sentence than her prior criminal history. The notion that an offender's prior bad acts ought to be considered an aggravating sentencing factor enjoys near-universal acceptance. But fewer jurisdictions appear to consider an offender's prior good acts (such as honorable military service or charitable works) as a mitigating factor at sentencing. This Article discusses the potential relationship between aggravating and mitigating sentencing factors. It also explores whether, in light of the overwhelming consensus that a prior bad act is aggravating, there is a principled reason that a sentencing system could fail to treat a prior good act as mitigating.

Keywords: punishment, sentencing, recidivism, good works, veterans, mitigation, aggravation

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, Why are Only Bad Acts Good Sentencing Factors?. Boston University Law Review, Vol. 88, 2008; University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 38. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1141522

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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