The Teenage Swarming Murders Part 2 – Why Do Youths Get Special Treatment?
Blog by Arun S. Maini
In a crime that made headlines around the world, eight teen girls, between the ages of 13 and 16, were charged with the murder of a man outside a homeless shelter in downtown Toronto. The crime, which shocked the city, has raised issues about public safety, the bail system and the privacy rights of youths charged with the most serious of crimes.
Our criminal lawyer, Arun Maini, was recently interviewed on CBC television about this case. You can see these interviews here.
Some of the questions that have been frequently asked about this case include:
- Why do youths get special treatment under the law?
- Why would any of the girls charged in this swarming attack be released on bail?
- Why are the identities of the youths being protected?
- Can any of the youths be tried as adults?
- What sentences can one expect if they are found guilty?
Why do youths get special treatment under the law?
In addition to the Criminal Code, the law for young persons under the age of 18 who are charged with criminal offences is set out in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).
Young persons are treated differently because society recognizes that they do not yet have the maturity or insight that adults have developed. As such, they are deemed to bear a lesser degree of responsibility for crimes that they commit. The YCJA requires that youth cases be approached with more flexibility, empathy and leniency that those of adults. More focus is placed on understanding the root causes of the youth’s behaviour, his or her life circumstances and what is needed to increase their chances at finding a successful path forward in life.
The law recognizes that if young people who make mistakes can be guided and brought back on track towards a healthy, law-abiding and productive life, all of society benefits.
In the vast majority of cases, the special treatment of young persons is well-recognized and accepted. It is only in the most serious and aggravated situations, such as murder, that controversy over this special treatment arises. However, it is in these high-profile cases that the principles that apply to youth must be strictly recognized and be seen to be respected in order to foster respect for the law and the administration of justice.
What are some of the special protections given to young people under the law?
The YCJA sets out certain fundamental principles that apply to youth cases:
- The youth criminal justice system must be separate from that of adults because youths are not as mature as adults
- Youths must be given enhanced procedural protections, such as the right to have a parent or lawyer present for police questioning;
- The youth system must emphasize crime prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration into society;
- Accountability for crimes must be fair, proportional and restrained;
- Detention in custody should be a last resort after all other options have been considered;
- The parents, family, caregivers, community and social service agencies should be included in this process where appropriate;
- The youth has the right to be informed, to be heard, and to meaningfully participate in the proceedings;
- The youth should be treated with courtesy and compassion, and their dignity and privacy respected.
Criminal proceedings involving youth take place in separately-constituted Youth Court, with designated judges and prosecutors.
Why would any of the girls charged in this swarming attack be released on bail?
Because young people are entitled to enhanced protections from the law, they are more likely than adults to be released on bail, particularly if they are to be supervised. Detention in custody is a last resort.
As discussed in our earlier blog on the subject of bail for youth (see blog here), the three main issues when it comes to bail are more easily addressed with a youthful defendant: when supervised, they will show up for court and be less likely to commit offences; and the public’s confidence in the administration of justice will not be undermined by the release of a young person on bail, even for serious crimes.
Why are the identities of the youths being protected?
The names and identities of the youth charged in this murder are being withheld. It is a requirement of the youth criminal justice system that young persons not suffer the stigma of being identified by their charges or their crimes. Rather than publishing their names, the court will refer to them as “defendant #1” and so on, or by their initials. By shielding youthful defendants from public shaming and the stigma of being labelled as criminals, the system expects that they will be more likely to grow into law-abiding and responsible adults. And the more serious the crime, the more important it is to protect the youth from repercussions and the stigma of being labelled and exposed.
Can any of the youths be tried as adults?
Youth trials always take place in Youth Court, but in certain rare and special circumstances, the youth can be given an adult sentence:
- The youth must have committed a very serious crime;
- The youth must have been at least 14 years old when the offence was committed;
- The prosecutor must persuade the court that the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness of a youth does not apply in the case, and that the maximum sentences available under the YCJA are insufficient in the circumstances of the case.
What sentences can one expect if they are found guilty?
The maximum sentence for a youth found guilty of a crime is three years in custody (although it will be a youth facility which is quite different from an adult prison).
Murder is treated differently. The maximum sentence for a youth found guilty of first degree murder is ten years; for second degree murder it is seven years. However, in recognition of the importance placed on the rehabilitation of youth and their re-integration into society, the maximum number of years served in an actual youth detention centre for murder is only six years for first degree murder and four years for second degree.
In the teen swarming case, the sentence for any youths found guilty will depend on their respective roles and degree of responsibility (were they active participants or less involved; mere bystanders will not be found guilty of murder), as well as their personal circumstances.
There will be a lengthy and complex process before any sentences are imposed in this case. This is a very difficult time for the family and friends of the victim, who have to wait for justice; but it is vital to our society that justice be administered in a fair and consistent manner. But eventually justice will come.
Arun S. Maini at the Defence Group is very experienced with youth court and youth criminal justice cases. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges and need the advice of an experienced and skilled lawyer to help you through the legal process, call The Defence Group for a free consultation at 877-295-2830 or email us through the Contact Us link throughout our website.
Arun S. Maini is a criminal lawyer and former prosecutor with over 25 years of experience