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in criminal law, circumstances that make a particular criminal act and the criminal himself more dangerous socially and that entail more severe punishment.
In Soviet law an exhaustive list of aggravating circumstances is given in the criminal codes of the Union republics. A distinction is made between (1) aggravating circumstances that are constituent elements of a particular crime, for example, repeated theft (in such instances the increased punishment is prescribed by law for the particular type of crime), and (2) circumstances that are not constituent elements of the specific crime but apply to all types of crime. For example, Article 39 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR includes among such aggravating circumstances the previous commission of a crime, or the commission of a crime by an organized group, from mercenary motives, with unusual cruelty, or against minors or persons advanced in age. Aggravating circumstances not prescribed by law may not be considered by the court in assigning the punishment.
The determination of aggravating circumstances is also important for identifying the factors and conditions that contributed to the commission of the crime. These findings are used to develop measures to prevent crime.