Young Offenders And The Justice System
When a minor is accused of a crime, he or she has the same legal rights as an adult. The Crown must respect his or her right to counsel, to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and to understand the charges against him or her.
However, young offenders are not adults. The criminal justice system understands that. They do not always understand the law, the consequences of their actions, or even the fact that some of their actions may be illegal. They are also at a stage in their lives in which their entire future is being formed, and are vulnerable to long-lasting negative effects from incarceration more than adults.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act tries to ensure that youth charged with crimes are treated the same as adults when appropriate, and treated differently when necessary.
At Darwin R. Witmer Criminal Law, I help youth and their families navigate the youth system and get the best results.
How Are Minors Treated In The Criminal Justice System?
If you or your child has been charged, you will no doubt have many questions for your lawyer. They may include:
- Will I go to jail? Usually, incarceration is a last resort for most minors. Even when incarceration is used, the sentences are shorter and there is more emphasis on education and rehabilitation than punishment.
- What kind of consequences could I face, other than prison? That depends on your charge. However, for many charges, the Crown is more likely to approve of alternative measures such as restitution, writing a letter of apology, community service, or counselling.
- Should I plead guilty? That depends. Some parents feel that their children should plead guilty, but it’s important to understand that a minor has just as much right as an adult to demand that the Crown prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Especially if the consequences of pleading are severe, youth may be better off fighting their case in court.
- Who is the client? Many parents pay their children’s legal fees, and parents are invaluable as sources of social and emotional support and advice. However, the person charged is the one who has to make the final decisions about pleading guilty or fighting the case in court. The youth is my client.