Young people are treated quite differently than adults by the criminal justice system. This is because it is understood that young people lack the experience and judgment of adults; they are not fully mature and have not yet developed their adult identities. As a general rule, they make more mistakes and are more easily rehabilitated than adults.
There are special rules that apply to youth cases, at every stage from investigation to arrest to the way they are handled by police and the courts. Even the punishment for crimes is different. There is even special legislation dealing with these cases, called the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), which completely updated and modernized the old Young Offenders’ Act.
A youth is someone who is under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offence with which s/he is charged. Youth cases take place in special Youth Courts, presided over by Youth Court judges.
The somewhat convoluted legal definition of a young person in the Criminal Code is as follows:
2.(1) “young person” means a person who is or, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, appears to be twelve years old or older, but less than eighteen years old and, if the context requires, includes any person who is charged under this Act with having committed an offence while he or she was a young person or who is found guilty of an offence under this Act.
The Youth Criminal Justice Principles:
The YCJA begins with both a Preamble and a Declaration of Principle that guide the application of the law to young persons. Those principles include:
- Addressing the circumstances underlying the youth’s behaviour;
- Rehabilitation and reintegration into society;
- Fair and proportionate accountability;
- Enhanced procedural protection and fairness;
- Prompt and timely intervention;
- Reinforcing respect for societal values;
- Recognizing the gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences of young persons, especially those who are aboriginal or who have special needs.
The full Preamble and Declaration of Principle are reproduced below:
Special Considerations in Youth Cases
Parents play an important role in youth cases, because young persons are deemed to be dependent upon their parents. Before a case can proceed in Youth Court, a parent must be notified by the police that their son or daughter is being prosecuted.
The police are limited in their ability to take statements from young persons, who are entitled to have a parent present during the interview, and who, unlike adults, must be notified in writing of their rights to silence and to be represented by counsel. A statement that does not follow the strict limitations of the Act will not be admissible in court.
There is a legal presumption in favour of bail hearing lawyer for young people.
The identity of young people cannot be disclosed in any criminal proceedings, even where a youth is found guilty. Their names can only be referred to by their initials.
There is a far greater range of sentences available in youth cases, many of which are not considered “sentences” at all. Before a youth can be prosecuted, police and prosecutors must consider whether a simple warning or caution will suffice. Another device available to consequence a youth is known as an “extra-judicial sanction”, in which a youth must do something to recognize his responsibility for a crime without pleading guilty. Examples of extra-judicial sanctions include writing an essay, doing some community service work, or making an apology.
Once a youth has been dealt with by Youth Court, s/he is entitled to privacy protections that are not afforded to adults. The records of a youth’s involvement with criminal activity remain sealed forever, except under some very specific and technical provisions and exceptions, such as when the youth, now an adult, commits a further criminal offence within a certain time period following the offence s/he committed as a youth.
Dealing with youth cases requires a criminal defence lawyer with the knowledge and experience to deal with the complexities, special rules and sensitivity required by this specialized area of the law. At the Defence Group, our lawyers have worked on both sides of the issue, and we deal with youth cases all the time. We can bring the skills you need to protect your son or daughter from the consequences of involvement with the police and the justice system, so that they can grow up to be responsible, mature adults unburdened by the mistakes of their youth.