Youth Criminal Lawyer: When Youth Are Charged
The major question that keeps running through your mind, either as a guardian or the youth being charged, is what will happen after being charged?
A young person under the law is a person who is in the range of ages twelve (12) to seventeen (17). The offenses committed by the people within this age range are usually heard in the Youth Court.
The trial of a young person is regulated by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, there are instances where a young person who has been charged with an offense will be tried in an Adult Court.
This depends on the nature of the crime and other factors that the Youth Court Judge will consider before referring the case to an Adult Court.
Some of the questions that beg for answers in your mind right now might be:
- What types of offenses are or might be transferred to the Adult Court?
- If found guilty, what will happen to me?
- Is it possible that I get off this charge?
- What should be my next line of action?
Nature of the Charge
The nature of the charge will be a serious factor in determining how your case proceeds. For less serious charges, the Crown Attorney will often be very lenient and may even offer to have your charges withdrawn as long as certain steps are taken such as counseling or volunteering.
For more serious charges, it will depend on how serious the charges are and whether the youth has a criminal record. The Crown Attorney and the courts may come down harsher on someone with more serious charges in an effort to prevent the type of behavior from happening again.
This is known as specific deterrence. They are also concerned with sending a message to the general population of the youth of what can happen if you behave in a violent fashion or in some manner not acceptable under the law—this is called general deterrence.
With that said, when it comes to youths, the most important goal of the courts is rehabilitation. The focus for youths is always on rehabilitation wherever possible.
The Youth Criminal Justice System
This justice system is designed to protect a young offenders in a way that instead of imprisoning and removing the young offenders from society, the youth criminal justice system attempts to rehabilitate and reform them. This process is normally accomplished through various diversion programs such as alternative sentencing frameworks.
Young offenders are punished differently than adult criminals. Youth courts in most juvenile cases impose flexible sentences, such as rehabilitation programs, payment of restitution to victims, imposition of court-ordered curfews, community service, mandatory school attendance, or placement in a young person detention facility because the juvenile justice system aims to rehabilitate.
Even in cases where they are prosecuted as adults, minors may still benefit from more favorable youth sentencing statutes.
When will a case be transferred to the adult court?
As earlier mentioned, most youth cases are treated differently from adult cases. However, in certain circumstances, the offense committed by the young person can be transferred to the adult court. In that case, the young person will be tried as an adult.
The process by which a young person's case is transferred to an adult court is called ’waiver’- a process whereby a judge waives the protections that the youth court affords. Waiver cases typically involve more serious offenses or youths who have previously been involved in grievous acts.
While being tried in adult court provides a child with additional constitutional protections, it also comes with drawbacks, such as the prospect of harsher punishment and time spent in an adult jail facility.
A court may grant a waiver petition and transfer a young person's case to an adult court based on the following factors, for instance:
- Where a very serious offense has been charged against the young person, for instance, homicide.
- Where previous young person rehabilitation attempts have failed.
- Where the young person has a long criminal record.
- Where the juvenile or young person is older, for instance, a 16 to 17 years old youth.
Advantages and disadvantages of a waiver
Though the protection of the youth court has been waived when a young offender is transferred to an adult court, there are still some advantages the adult criminal court provides to the young offender.
Similarly, most adult criminal courts are congested with adult criminal cases, and the jails are also seemingly congested.
The juvenile court may be more willing to promptly resolve the young person's case and give a lower penalty. Some disadvantages also come with a young person's case being transferred to an adult court. There are chances that the sentences for the young offender will be more severe owing to the nature of the crime committed.
Instead of being held in young person detention institutions, the child may have to serve time in an adult prison. A youth court verdict carries less social shame than an adult criminal court conviction.
A youth conviction will also have much less of an impact when it comes to travel and employment. Oftentimes if a youth is charged as a youth, and then also gets charged as an adult, it will be beneficial to have the adult charges withdrawn at all costs.
What should you do when charged?
When an action is instituted against a young person, the thought of what to do can overwhelm you as a parent/guardian of the minor or even the young person in this case.
Although it is not out of place to have such feelings in such a situation, however, you should be cognizant of a couple of things, depending on the nature of the offense and the charge. Some of which are discussed below.
Get a lawyer: The first step in the right direction is to find someone you can talk to about the offense and criminal charges. The best person you can talk to is a lawyer. You are always safe to speak to your lawyer when charged with an offense.
However, the type of lawyer that you should approach must have outstanding knowledge of the nature of the offense and charge and experience in dealing with these charges.
It would be best if you employ the service of a youth lawyer who focuses on youth defense. An experienced youth defense lawyer will be able to relate to the case easily and know the best appropriate method to address the case.
A youth lawyer with knowledge and expertise will draw on their experience when negotiating with the crown and advocate for the best result, keeping in mind the youth has their whole life ahead of them, and to saddle them with a criminal record should be a last resort.
Exercise your right to remain silent: The first thing that comes to your mind at the point of arrest or when charged is to try to defend yourself by saying things that you think should be able to save you.
However, at these moments, most of what you might be saying might do the opposite of what you intend that they do for you. Therefore, it is best advised in most cases that you remain silent, as this is a right you have. Every case is different, and it is imperative you speak with an experienced criminal lawyer prior to giving a statement.
Be open to your lawyer: You must be open to your defense lawyer as this goes a long way to help you in your case. You have to understand that your lawyer has your best interests at heart.
As such, your lawyer will want to help you in the best way possible, either to get discharged if the offense is minor and if the offense is more serious, help you get the best deal and a minimum punishment.
Make sure you do not dispose of your evidence: This can impede one’s case. When you are charged with an offense, you should not discard any pieces of evidence out of fear or panic about what will happen, as these are what might help you get off the charge and be acquitted. Moreover, it is a crime to destroy evidence.
Role of parents/guardian: As a parent or guardian of a young person who is charged with an offense, you need to be supportive during this time and your child's welfare is of utmost priority. Oftentimes, parents play a significant role in their children’s lives and in their court cases.
The parents will be an important point of contact and will help with such things as gathering documentation to support the child. Even by showing up in court, can show the judge that they come from a supportive family and rehabilitation is a real possibility.
Contact Bernstein Law Group
- Department of Justice Canada - Youth Criminal Justice Act (Video)
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
- Youth Criminal Justice Act PDF (Download)
- Youth Rights and Freedoms
- Children's Right: Canada
- Young Offenders Act Summary and Background
- Youth Justice Initiative
- Young Offenders Act (Repealed)
- Educational Tools
- Youth Justice Legal Aid