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What does ‘circumstances of aggravation’ mean?

The phrase ‘in circumstances of aggravation’ often appears on a Court Attendance Notice. For example, “sexual intercourse without consent, in circumstances of aggravation” or ‘dangerous driving occasioning death, in circumstances of aggravation‘.

Circumstances of Aggravation Definition

Put simply, the use of this phrase means that the offence occurred in particular circumstances that make the offending more serious. What the particular circumstances involve, depends on the type of charge.

For example, for sexual offences, the circumstances which make the offending aggravated include:

  • If, during the offence, the offender intentionally or recklessly inflicted actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm on the victim, or threatened to inflict harm, or
  • The victim was under the offender’s authority at the time of the offence, or
  • The offence occurred in the company of another person, or
  • The victim had a serious physical disability or cognitive impairment, or
  • The victim was under the age of 16 years

For dangerous driving charges, the offending is aggravated if the driver was:

For break and enter offences, the offending is aggravated if the offender:

  • Inflicts actual bodily harm, or
  • Has a weapon, or
  • Uses corporal violence, or
  • Is in the company of another person, or
  • Deprives someone of their liberty.

If police believe one of these circumstances exist, the charge will be aggravated. The circumstance of aggravation will then become an element of the offence. In other words, it needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

For example, the prosecution will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you inflicted actual bodily harm, or that you were in the company of another person. If the prosecutor cannot prove this element, you will not be guilty of the aggravated charge.

Increased Maximum Penalty

The impact of being charged ‘in circumstances of aggravation’ is that the maximum penalty will increase. Therefore, there is less chance of receiving a lenient sentence.

However, it may be possible to negotiate with the police to have the aggravated charge withdrawn. Therefore, it is important you obtain legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer.

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