The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) replaced the Young Offenders Act and built upon it’s best practices. The main goal of the act is the protection of society through crime prevention, meaningful consequences for youth that commit crime with an emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration of youths. The Act is intended to go beyond just punishing young offenders. The Act strives to strike a balance between meaningful consequences and helping youth avoid criminal behaviour. To accomplish these goals sets out special considerations for young offenders.
In addition to promoting rehabilitation, the Youth Criminal Justice Act is intended to inform young offenders of their legal rights and ensure these rights are protected from the moment they first interact with police until their sentences are completed. It is well established that young offenders are more vulnerable to pressures exerted upon by them by police during interrogations and are far less likely to assert their Charter rights.
Historically police have not always been diligent to ensure the rights of young offenders were respected. The YCJA mandates specific procedures that police must follow when arresting and interviewing youths. In this article, a Toronto young offenders lawyer divulges these special protections and procedures.
Notify Parents of Prosecution
When a youth has been charged and will be prosecuted for a criminal offence, their parents are to be notified by police. If a young person is detained the officer in charge is to give notice to their parents as soon as possible. The notice is to include where they are detained and the reason they are arrested.
The notice contains:
- The name of the young offender
- The charge against the young offenders
- A statement that they have the right to be represented by counsel
If a parent is unavailable or their whereabouts are unknown, notice may be given to another adult relative. This relative must be someone who is likely to help the young person. If a relative is unavailable another adult who is known to the young person may be contacted. The police officer giving notice must consider this adult to be appropriate.
A youth justice court judge can give direction if there is doubt over who should receive the notice.
The arresting officer is also required to advise the young offender of their right to counsel. A young person has the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay. A right that they can execute at any stage of proceedings against them.
Parental Presence During Police Interview
Young offenders have the right to have a parent, or appropriate adult, present during any interview with police. If the judge is not satisfied that this right is not clearly explained to the offender, any confession made is not admissible.
The presence of a parent or an appropriate adult helps to ensure the youth is not bullied or pressured into a confession. It also helps to ensure that their rights are understood and protected.
Notified of Rights in Writing
Young offenders must be notified of their rights to silence and to be represented by counsel in writing. Written notification gives proof that the rights were explained clearly and in language tailored to the understanding and capabilities of the young person.
The Crown does not have to prove that the defendant understands their rights. However, they do need to demonstrate that the language used was appropriate for the offender’s age and understanding. The police officer is expected to determine the level of comprehension of the offender and engage appropriately.
If the notice is not given in writing or does not satisfy a clear explanation in these terms, no confession can be used against the defendant.
Greater Range of Sentencing Options
Youth criminal justice court judges have a greater range of sentencing options for youth and young offenders. While young people are held accountable for their actions, their treatment must be fair and encourage rehabilitation.
It is preferred that less serious offences are handled outside of the formal court system. For example, referring them to community programs. More serious offences may still face more lenient sentencing. As well, no young person can serve time in an adult prison until they reach the age of 18.
According to the YCJA, sentencing and interventions should:
- reinforce respect for societal values;
- encourage the repair of harm done;
- be meaningful to the offender;
- respect gender, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences; and
- respond to the needs of Aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements.
Legal Aid Services for Youth
Youth, persons under 18 years old, have access to services from Legal Aid Ontario. All youth have the right to free legal advice from a lawyer. They can ask the police to call a duty counsel while in custody. The counsel provides information privately until the youth can get their own lawyer.
Before the first day of court, youth can apply for a legal aid certificate. This certificate is used to retain the services of a criminal lawyer. Legal Aid will not assign them a lawyer, the defendant is responsible for finding a youth criminal lawyer that they want to work with.
A Legal Aid Certificate requires youth to meet specific legal criteria demonstrating financial need. The application can be made at the legal aid office.
Hiring A Young Offender Lawyer
If a young offender is facing charges, it’s important to ensure they have the right representation. An experienced young offender lawyer makes sure their Charter rights are protected and followed.
Contact us today for questions or consultation.
William Jaksa | Criminal Litigation
43 Front Street East, Suite 400
Toronto, ON M5E 1B3