Everyone in Canada is held accountable for their criminal actions. That being said, we approach crimes committed by youth differently than how adult crime is approached. While youth are still subject to the same criminal legislation as their adult counterparts, the Youth Criminal Justice Act was enacted to modify the court and sentencing procedures for young people.
Who does the YCJA apply to?
The Youth Criminal Justice Act applies to anyone that is between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. If you are 11 years old or younger, the YCJA will not apply to you as you cannot be prosecuted. If you do, however, engage in criminal behavior at a very young age, government agencies may get involved in your life.
Additionally, the YCJA does not apply to anyone that is 18 years old or older. That being said, if you are 18 years or older, but you are being charged with a crime that was allegedly committed before you turned 18, then the YCJA will apply, but with certain modifications. For instance, if you are sentenced to a term of imprisonment, then you may be placed in a correctional institution with adults.
What rights do youth charged under the YCJA have?
Young offenders have all the same rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are available to adult offenders. These rights include:
- The right to remain silent;
- The right to counsel;
- The right to not be arbitrarily detained by the police;
- The right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure; and
- The right to be tried within a reasonable time.
When it comes to youth, these rights are often expanded, and young offenders are even afforded some special considerations, such as:
- The presence of counsel while you are being questioned;
- The involvement of parents and guardians in the criminal matter;
- The appointment of a free lawyer in specific legal situations (such as for bail hearings);
- Privacy rights surrounding the your identity; and
- Incarceration as a last resort.
What are some differences between adult and youth cases?
Though both young offenders and adults will be held accountable for their criminal actions, there are differences that exist between how the criminal cases are approached:
- Bail is typically granted much more easily for young offenders.
- Notice to parents:
- In youth cases, the police must notify the young offender’s parents as soon as the child is detained or arrested. Since their role is so important, in some cases, a judge can also order them to attend hearings and the trial.
- Sentencing options:
- In youth cases, there is much more flexibility with sentencing and there is a wider range of sentences available, including custody and community supervision orders, discharges, community service, fines and compensation, and even a judicial warning. As mentioned above, a sentence that involves a period of incarceration is always a last resort. Sentences are also generally limited to two years, although there can be variations.
There is also a mechanism for diverting youth cases out of the traditional criminal framework. This mechanism is known as “extrajudicial sanctions” (EJS). Typically, the Crown screens minor offences for EJS. EJS involves a program that must be completed by the young offender, and then the Crown withdraws the charges. In order for you to take part in these programs, however, you must acknowledge and accept responsibility for the behaviour that forms the basis of the offence. Additionally, while the charges themselves are withdrawn, a record of participating in the program will exist for two years.
What is a youth record?
Your youth record is a record of your interactions with the police and the court. It includes the offences you were charged with, the sentence you received, and whether you finished serving your sentence. The individuals who can access this record are limited, and the YCJA outlines who they are.
While a youth record is not as serious or permanent as an adult criminal record, there can be consequences. A lawyer can help you understand these consequences.
Can a youth record be sealed?
Your record is not automatically sealed when you become an adult at the age of 18. Instead, your youth record will be sealed following a certain amount of time. Depending on the type of crime you committed and the outcome of your case, your record will be sealed within 2 months to 5 years. When your record is sealed, it is closed permanently.
It is important to recognize that there are some instances where the record could be kept indefinitely. A youth record could also become a criminal record if the following situation occurs: If you are over 18, your youth record is still open, and you are convicted of an offence, then your youth record will be converted into an adult criminal record.
Can young offenders be sentenced as an adult?
In some cases, youth offenders can be sentenced as an adult. Where the young offender is over the age of 14 and is guilty of an offence for which an adult would receive a sentence of two or more years of incarceration, then the Crown can ask for the imposition of the sentence an adult would receive for that particular offence. The burden, however, is on the Crown to demonstrate why an adult sentence would be appropriate.
It’s vital to hire a lawyer
Youth criminal cases require specific expertise. They are prosecuted and handled differently from adult criminal cases. Cases involving youth can be life-changing for those involved. In some cases, the youth record can be turned into a criminal record and may stay with you for your entire life.
A lawyer can:
- Work to secure your release with the most favourable conditions;
- Help you navigate the criminal justice system;
- Ensure that the Crown meets its disclosure obligations;
- Identify systematic or administrative errors in the criminal process, including Charter rights violations;
- Speak to the Crown on your behalf, negotiate, and advise you of your options;
- Assess all the evidence against you and build a strong defence, so the mistakes of your youth do not define your future;
- Gather further evidence to support your version of the events;
- Obtain a more lenient sentence in the event a guilty plea or conviction is entered.
All criminal cases are complex and fact specific. We have provided general information about how YCJA cases are handled. Hiring a lawyer provides your best chance at mounting a successful defence. For more information about how we can help, please contact our team.