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Frequently Asked Questions

Can an Adult be Charged with a Crime they Committed as a Youth?

Adults can be tried in youth court for a crime they committed while they were between the ages of 12 and 17. This is particularly common for historical sexual offences. The emotional trauma experienced by victims of sexual offences may make it difficult for them to report the offence to the police. Once a victim does come forward with evidence of an offence, the police will charge the alleged offender. It usually will not matter how long ago an offence was committed. Most criminal offences under Canadian law do not have a statute of limitations that prevents an offender from being prosecuted after a certain amount of time has passed. This ensures that offenders are held accountable for severe criminal behaviour years or even decades after the crime occurred.

There are two aspects of charging an adult with a historical youth offence that can complicate a case. The first is that an offender must be charged with the crime as it was worded at the time it was committed. This means that an adult in Brampton who is charged with a sexual assault that occurred in 1980 when they were 14, will be charged under the Criminal Code as it was written in 1980.

This leads to the second unique aspect of charging adults as youth offenders. Using a previous version of a crime may open new possibilities for sentencing that are not currently available in the present Code. It may also be that the previous version carries stricter penalties than our modern system. In that event, if an offender is committed, they have a right to benefit from whatever the lesser punishment is.

What is Youth Court in Brampton?

Youth court is a division of a provincial court in either the Ontario Court of Justice or Ontario Superior Court of Justice that deals specifically with cases where the accused is a young person aged between 12 and 17. Youth court is held in the same courthouse as adult criminal matters but sometimes in a separate courtroom. Youth matters are also found on a separate docket from adult matters, which is a list of cases that is to be called each day. Like an adult court, youth court matters are heard by a judge or justice of the peace.

Youth court also offers special protections for accused persons and victims of crime. One of the principles listed under s. 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act ensures that the process is designed to protect the rights and freedoms of young persons – including the right to privacy. The principles also state all parties are to be informed about the criminal process and given an opportunity to meaningfully participate in it.

Crime committed by youth offenders is a problem faced by many communities. Many police departments provide data to the public on the topic of youth crime. The Peel Regional Police, which serves Brampton, is one such department. Statistics provided by the PRP show that they charged 685 youths with offences in 2022. Of that number, 465 were charged with a crime against another person. There were 126 youths charged with a crime against property. There were 19 youth charged with drug-related offences, and four were charged with criminal driving offences.

What is a Youth Record?

A youth record is anything that contains information on a youth case or that was used while investigating an offence. A youth record could be a physical or digital document that contains information such as the name and date of birth of a youth offender in Brampton, the details of their arrest and the offence they were charged with, the outcome of the case as well as what they were sentenced to. A record may also contain any information provided by people known to the offender that was used in a pre-sentence report to aid a judge in the sentencing process.

Youth records are kept private from the public. They can only be accessed by an offender, their family, their lawyer, or the victim. The record can also be seen by the Crown, the judge, the police involved in the case, other law enforcement personnel, and anyone authorized by the court. A youth record can only be accessed for a certain amount of time before it sealed or destroyed. This period is known as an access period and its length is determined by how each case is resolved.

Stages of the Criminal Justice System

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Are Young People Treated Differently than Adults in the Justice System?

Young people are treated differently than adults in the justice in both principle and practice. The YCJA states that youth offenders are less morally responsible for their actions than an adult offender would be. This principle exists because youth offenders generally lack the maturity and development that an adult offender should possess. This core principle is also reflected in the sentencing process. Though the sentencing principles for both types of offenders are similar, they are prioritized differently in youth cases. Adult offenders are more likely to sentenced to a period of imprisonment for an offence. This is far less common for youth offenders and is used only as a last resort.

From a procedural standpoint, the youth court process grants more privacy protections to a young offender than what would be given to an adult. All youth cases are subject to a publication ban. While this is available for adult offenders, a youth publication ban is more powerful. A publication ban prevents the facts and evidence of a case from being published. It will also remove an offender’s name and identifying information from the docket. The case will only be identified using the accused’s initials, and only their age and gender may be published in the media. Importantly, a publication ban applicable to an adult will often expire once a case has been resolved. For youth offenders, that publication ban will remain in effect permanently.

Consequences of a Criminal Record

What are the Principles of Sentencing for Youth Offenders?

As mentioned above, youth criminal cases rely on principles of sentencing that are similar, but not identical to those used for adult offenders. The general principles of sentencing contained within both ss. 38 of the YCJA and 718 of the Code. In any case a sentence must be the least restrictive one possible that is appropriate based on the facts of each case. All other sentencing measures should be considered before sentencing an offender to prison, and each sentence should be like those imposed in cases dealing with similar facts.

Each sentence has an underlying goal of denouncing criminal conduct, deterring criminal behaviour, promoting a sense of accountability in offenders, aiding in their rehabilitation, and providing victims with a sense of justice. Adult sentences give different priorities to each of these goals depending on the facts of each case and the seriousness of a given offence. Often, deterrence and denunciation are the guiding principles for most serious offences which leads to prison sentences. This balance is different for youth offenders because of their age and need for development. The focus in every youth case is to hold an offender accountable with meaningful consequences that primarily focus on their rehabilitation and reintegration as productive members of society. Other principles like denunciation and deterrence become secondary considerations.

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Recent Cases

R. v. J.L., 2020 ONCJ 29

This Ontario Court of Justice case explores the issue of when a prison sentence is available for youth offenders. Here, the offender was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and multiple counts of criminal negligence causing bodily injury. The case dealt with a young driver whose actions led to the death of one of his friends and injuries to others. This offence was classified as a violent offence which opened what is referred to as the gateway to custody.

Even in cases where custody is a possible sentence, the term of that sentence will be limited for youth offenders. The maximum available sentence here was three years. Though, a judge must consider the circumstances of both the offence and the offender before deciding on a sentence that is both appropriate and the least restrictive. In this instance an 18-month sentence was imposed with a DNA order and five-year weapons ban. This sentence reflected both the severity of the offender’s willful decisions he made behind the wheel balanced with his first offender status and the harm caused to his friends that he must live with.

R. v. T.W., 2017 ONCJ 374 

This Ontario Court of Justice case highlights factors that can increase a sentence a youth offender receives. The offender here pled guilty to criminal negligence causing death, possession of stolen goods, and breach of an undertaking. The case dealt with another young driver involved in a crash that killed his friend. The facts also revealed that the offender had previously been arrested and released on a vehicle theft charge on the condition that he not drive any vehicles. The vehicle that was crashed was also stolen.

As with the case above, this was determined a violence offence which resulted in a custody sentence. In total 18 months of custody was imposed alongside a two-year probation order, a two-year weapons ban, a DNA order and a six-year driving prohibition. Each of these factors contributing to the offence increased the degree of responsibility of the offender, despite his age. This left no alternative to a custody sentence. “For the reasons pointed out by the Crown in submission here the door to secure custody is not only open, but is, in my view, required to denounce and deter the defendant, as I am allowed to consider now, and others in the community, but also to keep the defendant on the correct route he has already started towards rehabilitation.”

R. v. M.M., 2021 ONSC 8095

This Ontario Superior Court of Justice case demonstrates what circumstances of the offender are considered during the sentencing process. Here, the offender pled guilty to second-degree murder. As a serious violent offence, the offender was sentenced to the maximum of seven years in intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision. All youth cases require a pre-sentence report to be made that helps provide context into both the offender and the offence. This report is a crucial tool used by judges to determine the appropriate sentence.

In this case the report focused on the mental state of the offender and the supports he had available. With youth offenders, the goal of the report is not just to describe the present needs of the offender, but to consider what measures may need to be taken as the offender ages, matures and develops. Here, the expert who authored the report noted that the offender had intellectual and social challenges that may lead to the major mental health problems. The report also concluded the offender had a supportive extended family who had already taken steps to help his rehabilitation. In these circumstances, the YCJA allows for annual reviews of a custodial sentence to ensure that the sentence continually serves the interests of both the offender and society. This demonstrates how the principles underlying youth sentencing are applied in practice.

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About the Author

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Jordan Donich

Jordan Donich has been a Lawyer for over 10 years and is a trusted legal analyst by Canadian Media. He is as a leader in Canada’s tech sector for lawyers and developer of Law Newbie. Jordan is a Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association and trained in Krav Maga. He won a Gold Medal at 2004 Canadian National Championships and was published in the National Newspaper Awards.

Jordan has been featured in Forbes and is a member of DMZ Angels in Toronto.