To be charged with a crime in Canada, a person must be at least 12 years of age. Between the ages of 12 and 18, youth prosecutions are governed by the Federal Youth Criminal Justice Act which incorporates many provisions of the Criminal Code but is the paramount legal authority for dealing with youthful offenders.
If you are a youth charged with a crime, you are constitutionally entitled to a state-paid lawyer regardless of your (or your family’s) ability to pay.
In Alberta, this means that you can seek free assistance from the Legal Aid Society. In Edmonton and Calgary, this typically means that a public defender will be appointed to you as you have no right to choose your lawyer from Legal Aid.
In other communities around Alberta, Legal Aid will appoint private lawyers to assist you and you may be given some say in the selection process.
However, if you or your family wish to hire a lawyer privately, you may choose whichever lawyer you want.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act
The focus of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, unlike the Criminal Code, is the rehabilitation of the young person, not punishment.
Accordingly, the emphasis is on treatment and counseling with jail as a last resort – except where the crimes are very serious or the offender has a serious criminal record.
Common Charges Related to Youth Offences
The area of youth offence law includes the following possible charges:
- Disorderly Conduct
- Drug and alcohol offences
- Truancy (absenteeism from school)
Consequences for Youth Offences
Sentencing depends entirely upon the charge and nature of the crime. Consequences can include community-based sentences or custody and supervision sentences (typically reserved for violent offenders and repeat offenders).
Both options include both time in a youth custody facility and a period of community supervision with maximum sentence lengths ranging from 2-10 years.
The Act does allow judges to impose an adult sentence on youth offenders for serious offences committed when they were 14 years of age or older.
Frequently Asked Questions About Youth Offence Charges in Alberta
1. What happens in court?
If you are a youth who has been charged with committing an offence, you will appear before a judge to have your case heard and for the charges to be read out loud.
It is in court where you have an opportunity to plead “guilty” or “not guilty”. If you plead guilty, the judge will decide on your punishment with no trial.
If you plead not guilty, the court will set a trial date where witnesses will be questioned about what they know about the crime – by both the Crown Prosecutor (the person trying the case) and your defence lawyer.
After trial, if the judge decides you are guilty, they will decide your sentence. If you are found not guilty, you are free to go.
2. Will everyone know about my crime?
If you are convicted of committing a crime, your name cannot be published. This is known as a “publication ban” and it’s there to protect you so you can return to your community and move forward in your life.
However, if you committed a very serious offence such as murder, and are tried as an adult, this publication ban doesn’t apply.
3. If I’m tried as an adult, will I go to jail?
A youth is usually only sent to jail if they have committed a violent offence and are a serious repeat offender (they have committed the same or similar crime before).
Judges don’t send young people to jail without considering all aspects of the case. They will look at whether or not you are a repeat offender, if you have developed a pattern of committing offences, and whether or not you have obeyed other sentences in the community.
However, a judge could send you to jail if they believe the nature of your crime makes you a danger to the public or they believe jail would be helpful in your rehabilitation.
Have You Been Charged With a Youth Offence? Has Your Child Been Charged With a Youth Offence?
Being convicted as a young offender can bring long-term consequences so you must get experienced and proper advice at every stage of the proceedings. Contact the team at DDSG Criminal Law to learn more.