Often in the media we hear of an individual being charged with an ‘aggravated’ offence, but what this means is rarely explained. Some aggravated offences include:
- Aggravated robbery;
- Aggravated serious criminal trespass; and
- Aggravated assault.
Some of these offences seem serious on their own. For example, assaulting someone can leave the victim with significant injuries that can affect not only the victim, but their family and community.
"Aggravated offences carry harsher penalties than the substantive offence."
So what makes an offence ‘aggravated’?
Aggravated offences carry harsher penalties than the substantive offence. For example, the offence of basic assault carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, whereas an aggravated assault carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Similarly, a robbery which is a very serious offence carries a maximum imprisonment of 15 years, whereas an aggravated robbery can lead to life imprisonment.
There are many circumstances and factors that can cause an offence to be aggravated. Some of these include:
- The use of a weapon to commit the offence;
- Threatening to use a weapon to commit the offence;
- The accused intentionally inflicting severe harm or pain on the victim during the offence;
- The accused was in a position of trust or authority when committing the offence (for example, an accountant using his position of influence over one’s finances to swindle money from the victim);
- The young age of the victim (under 12 for most cases and under 14 for cases involving child pornography);
- The old age of the victim;
- Taking advantage of a victim suffering from a physical or mental disability;
- Offending against a victim working in a specific occupation, for example, assaulting a bus driver, ambulance officer, etc;
- Offending against a police officer or other law enforcement officer performing their duties;
- Committing an offence to prevent someone from taking legal proceedings, or as revenge for pursuing legal proceedings;
Under criminal law, for an offence to be proved by a Magistrate, Judge or jury, the offence needs to be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. This is a very high threshold to overcome which means that in many cases, we might think that an accused person probably committed the crime, but that person must still be acquitted if any reasonable doubt exists regarding the crime.
For an accused to be found guilty of an aggravated offence, the prosecution must not only prove the substantive offence beyond reasonable doubt, but must also prove the aggravating factor beyond reasonable doubt.
For example, if Mr Jones is charged with aggravated assault, and the aggravating factor is that Mr Jones used a knife during the assault, the prosecution need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that both the assault took place and that a knife was used during the assault. If the Magistrate, Judge or jury is convinced that the assault occurred, but not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that a weapon was used, then they can find the accused guilty of basic assault but not guilty of aggravated assault.
So next time you hear of someone being charged with an aggravated offence, keep in mind that the allegation is that they committed an offence in circumstances involving the factors listed above.
Today’s article is written by Associate Michael Irvine. Michael now practices in Civil Litigation and Employment Law. He has previous experience in the field of criminal law. If you have any queries or require assistance in criminal law, please feel free to get in touch directly with one of our lawyers practicing in that field; Toni Monteleone or Nes Alexandropoulos.