Ontario’s youth justice system operates separately from the adult system. When someone between the ages of 12 and 17 is charged with a criminal offence, police must follow the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).
The YCJA focuses on improving outcomes, taking responsibility, and reducing the likelihood of reoffending. The focus is less on consequences, and more on rehabilitation and reintegration. As such, youth have a separate process as well as their own special rights and sentencing options.
Despite myths to the contrary, young offenders can be tried as adults. Generally, this is reserved for serious crimes like homicide offences. Although these offences are eligible, the Crown does not have to try them as an adult.
Why Would a Youth be Tried as an Adult?
The main reason to try a youth as an adult is in an effort to get a longer sentence. Since the YCJA focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration, it has more lenient sentencing options than are available for an adult. With more severe crimes the Crown may believe there is a greater risk and feel the need for greater sentencing.
Longer sentencing is not the only reason to try a youth as an adult. The decision may also be politically or strategically motivated. For instance, a community that is particularly affected by gang-violence may put more public pressure for harsher punishment.
In this case, the Justice system feels pressure to provide stronger consequences for gang-related activity. Trying youth involved in gang violence as adults allows for harsher sentencing. This can help to appease the community.
Trying a young offender as an adult can also be a strategic move. In crimes involving multiple offenders, trying some as an adult creates two separate trials. This allows the Crown to use statements from one trial in the other.
Does Being Tried as an Adult Result in an Adult Sentence?
If a youth is tried as an adult, a conviction will result in an adult sentence. So if they are convicted of first-degree murder they can face imprisonment for life, the same as an adult. Whereas, if they were tried as a youth, the maximum sentence would be ten years.
However, they do receive some benefits for being a youth. For instance, a youth tried as an adult has more favourable parole conditions. An adult with a first-degree murder conviction has no chance at parole for 25 years. A young offender tried as an adult, however, has a shorter wait for parole.
For the same crime, youth between the ages of 16 and 18 can be eligible for parole after ten years. For youth under 16, parole is usually after five to seven years.
Do Youth Tried as Adults go to Adult Prison?
Typically, a convicted youth still goes to youth jail, even if tried as an adult. Although, this is not a hard and fast rule. If placement in a youth facility could present a risk to others. As well, they may go to an adult facility if a youth correctional facility is not in the best interest of the offender.
Although the youth starts their sentence in a youth facility, they do not remain there indefinitely. Typically, they move to a federal penitentiary once they reach 20 years old. If the move presents a significant risk to their safety or rehabilitation, there’s a possibility to remain in a youth correctional facility longer.
Hire a Toronto Criminal Defence Lawyer for Young Offenders
If your child is facing charges for a criminal offence, a youth criminal justice lawyer can help you get the best outcome. They will guide your child, allowing them to understand the charges, the process, and the potential outcomes. As well, they can help you understand the parent’s role during a youth criminal trial.
William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer with experience handling the special needs and circumstances of young offenders. Contact Jaksa today for a consultation.