When a minor is alleged to have committed a criminal offence, their charges will be dealt with in Youth Court under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) provisions. The YCJA applies to young persons between the ages of 12 and 17. Given the age limitations, a child under the age of 12 cannot be charged with a crime.
Individuals that are charged with a criminal offence and who are under the age of 18 will be prosecuted in a Youth Court. While some similarities exist between the adult and youth judicial systems, the landscape and penalties for a youth offence are very different. For young offenders who have been charged criminally, a variety of outcomes are not available to adults who face those same charges. Consequently, there is a need for a lawyer experienced in youth offence prosecutions.
In Alberta, The YCJA’s primary objectives are to:
Accountability: Ensure that youths take responsibility for their actions, which is achieved through measures proportional to the crime’s seriousness and the youth’s degree of responsibility.
Rehabilitation and Reintegration: Focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders into society, acknowledging their greater amenability to change.
Fair and Proportional Treatment: Confirm that a youth’s right to due process is respected and they’re treated fairly and proportionately.
Diversion: Emphasize the use of extrajudicial measures (alternatives to formal court proceedings) for less severe offences, thereby acknowledging that not all youth misbehaviour needs to be addressed through the formal justice system.
Protection of the Public: Foster long-term protection of the public by addressing the circumstances underlying a youth’s offending behaviour.
The YCJA encourages involving families, victims, and communities in the youth justice process, aiming to address the root causes of offending behaviour and facilitating a supportive environment for the youth to reform.
While numerous similarities exist between the youth and adult criminal justice systems, the landscape is very different. For matters in Calgary and Edmonton, a specialized courtroom exists for youth criminal matters. This courtroom is staffed with a specialized prosecutorial branch focusing exclusively on youth files.
In the adult system, accused persons charged with indictable offences have the ability to select their mode of trial. This process is known as an election. As an adult, the accused can elect to be tried in Provincial Court, in the Court of Queen’s Bench by a Justice sitting alone, or in the Court of Queen’s Bench by a jury of his/her peers. Conversely, all Youth Court prosecutions will be conducted in Provincial Court before a Provincial Court Judge.
The prevailing goal of the YCJA is to focus on rehabilitation of the young person to ensure that the crimes are not replicated later in life. As rehabilitation is a primary focus, probation is routinely used as a sanction. When imposed, the presiding judge can craft a sentence which assists the young person going forward. This may involve prohibiting them from contacting negative peers, requiring that they complete counselling for anger management or substance abuse, and even issuing an apology to the wronged party.
Unlike its adult counterpart, imposition a custodial sentence is a rarity, even for some of the more severe criminal code offences. Youth Court attempts to address the developmental challenges and the needs of young persons to guide them into adulthood effectively. Young persons charged with a criminal offence need a trusted advisor’s support, patience, and guidance. It is a complex and frightening time in the young person’s life, and without the proper counsel, the impact of a conviction can be devastating for both the youth and the family.
At Batting, Wyman Barristers, our lawyers will provide expert and empathetic counsel to youths charged with a criminal offence. Understanding the nuances of youth crime cases, we are here to provide the best legal advice and representation.
While young individuals share the constitutional rights granted to adults by the Charter, the YCJA provides additional protections for them. In the judicial process, the focus for youth is primarily on their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Likewise, if a mental disorder influenced your actions leading to the charge, you could be suitable for Mental Health Diversion (MHD). After meeting the conditions of MHD, your charges will be withdrawn.
Both Extra Judicial Measures and MHD necessitate the approval of the Crown Prosecutor.