According to Black's Law Dictionary (the most widely-used law dictionary in the United States) the term "aggravation" means "any circumstance attending the commission of a crime or tort which increases its guilt or enormity or adds to its injurious consequences, but which is above and beyond the essential constituents of the crime or tort itself."
In simple terms, an aggravating circumstance is a kind of attendant circumstance which increases the guilt of the crime as opposed to an extenuating or mitigating circumstance which decreases guilt. An example of mitigating circumstances would be when a man is found guilty of "manslaughter" rather than "murder" since he was suffering from medication side-effects which affected his judgment at the time.
Circumstances Which Constitute Aggravation in Kentucky Law
1. The offense of murder or kidnapping was committed by a person with a prior record of conviction for a capital offense, or the offense of murder was committed by a person who has a substantial history of serious assaultive criminal convictions;
2. The offense of murder or kidnapping was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of arson in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, burglary in the first degree, rape in the first degree, or sodomy in the first degree;
3. The offender by his act of murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon of mass destruction, weapon, or other device which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person;
4. The offender committed the offense of murder for himself or another, for the purpose of receiving money or any other thing of monetary value, or for other profit;
5. The offense of murder was committed by a person who was a prisoner and the victim was a prison employee engaged at the time of the act in the performance of his duties;
6. The offender's act or acts of killing were intentional and resulted in multiple deaths;
7. The offender's act of killing was intentional and the victim was a state or local public official or police officer, sheriff, or deputy sheriff engaged at the time of the act in the lawful performance of his duties; and
8. The offender murdered the victim when an emergency protective order or a domestic violence order was in effect, or when any other order designed to protect the victim from the offender, such as an order issued as a condition of a bond, conditional release, probation, parole, or pretrial diversion, was in effect.
Mitigating Circumstances in Kentucky Law
1. The defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity;
2. The capital offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance even though the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance is not sufficient to constitute a defense to the crime;
3. The victim was a participant in the defendant's criminal conduct or consented to the criminal act;
4. The capital offense was committed under circumstances which the defendant believed to provide a moral justification or extenuation for his conduct even though the circumstances which the defendant believed to provide a moral justification or extenuation for his conduct are not sufficient to constitute a defense to the crime;
5. The defendant was an accomplice in a capital offense committed by another person and his participation in the capital offense was relatively minor;
6. The defendant acted under duress or under the domination of another person even though the duress or the domination of another person is not sufficient to constitute a defense to the crime;
7. At the time of the capital offense, the capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired as a result of mental illness or retardation or intoxication even though the impairment of the capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform the conduct to the requirements of law is insufficient to constitute a defense to the crime; and
8. The youth of the defendant at the time of the crime.
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