Young people have rights and responsibilities when it comes to dealing with the police and breaking the law.

A crime is an act that breaks one of Canada’s criminal laws. A crime is sometimes called “an offence”. For example, if someone robs a bank, they have committed the crime of robbery, which is an offence under theCriminal Code of Canada.

If a person is 12 to 17 years old and is charged with a crime, the Youth Criminal Justice Act applies. TheYouth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is a Canadian law that guarantees the rights of young people in the criminal justice system.

The law applies to youth between the ages of 12 and 17.  A child under the age of 12 cannot be charged with a crime. At age 18, a person is considered to be an adult in the eyes of the court and will go to trial in adult court.

Pleading guilty

If the youth pleads “guilty”, the judge will decide on a sentence (punishment) and there will be no trial. Before deciding on the right sentence, the judge will ask for more information about the youth. This information can come from the youth’s parents, his or her probation officer, or other people who know the youth.

Pleading not guilty

If the youth pleads “not guilty”, the court will set a trial date. At the trial, the Crown prosecutor will ask witnesses to say what they know about the crime. The youth’s lawyer will also ask these witnesses questions. The youth’s lawyer might ask the youth or other witnesses to give evidence (say what happened). The Crown prosecutor will ask questions.

At the end of the trial, the judge will decide if the youth is guilty or not guilty. If the youth is not guilty, he or she is free to go. If the judge decides the youth is guilty, the judge will decide on a sentence (punishment).

Youth Sentencing

Judges apply special rules when sentencing youth. Sentences should be similar to other youth sentences in similar cases. A sentence should not be more severe than a sentence given to an adult. The judge will give a sentence that helps the youth feel responsible for their actions. Sometimes a youth’s sentence is to do community service, like volunteering in a homeless shelter. Learn more about youth sentencing.

Who will know about the youth’s crime?

When a youth is convicted of committing a crime, his or her name cannot be published. This is done to protect the youth. If the youth’s identity is not protected, he or she might find it difficult to return to his or her community. It might also affect the youth’s ability to move forward in life. So, for example, if there is a report in the paper about the crime, the youth will be referred to only by the initials of his or her name (like K.M.).

If the youth has committed a very serious crime (like murder), he or she might be treated as an adult in court. In this case, the youth’s name can be published.

Will the youth go to jail?

Usually, a youth will only be sent to jail if he or she has committed a violent offence and is a serious repeat offender (the youth has committed the same or similar offence before).

A judge will think about many things before sending a youth to jail. All other options must be reviewed first. A youth cannot be sent to jail unless:

  •  He or she committed a violent crime
  • The crime, if committed by an adult, could result in a sentence over 2 years, and the youth has developed a pattern of committing offences
  • The youth did not obey other sentences that he or she served in the community
  • In exceptional cases where the youth has committed a serious offence and the judge thinks that for whatever reason a jail sentence is necessary to rehabilitate the youth or protect the public

A judge must always give a reason for sending a youth to jail. In most cases, a youth will spend two-thirds of his or her sentence in jail, and the rest in the community.