Who is a young offender?

A young offender is someone between the ages of 12 and 17 who commits an offence under federal law, such as the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Rather than being treated as an adult, young offenders cases are processed under a special law called the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA)  and are now referred to as “young persons” under that Act. Although a young person can still face serious penalties for certain offences, they are not sent to adult prisons and there is generally a greater emphasis on rehabilitation.

How is a young person treated differently?

A young person is treated differently from an adult in at least three specific ways. First, a young person is given some extra legal rights. In addition to the normal right to consult a lawyer when stopped by police, young persons also have the right to speak with their parents or guardians, and the right not to be publicly identified.

Second, a young person’s trial takes place in a different court. Whereas adult trials take place in the Superior Court of Justice, or in the Ontario Court of Justice, young person trials take place in Youth Justice Court. The trial is often held in private and the details of the case are confidential.

Third, the penalties for young persons are different, often with more options and more flexibility. In the first place, the young person is often dealt with outside of the court, through Extrajudicial Measures. Examples include warnings from police, referrals to community programs and extrajudicial sanctions.  See 782 Extrajudicial Measures and Sanctions for more information.

As well, the judge could:

  • place the young person under the supervision of their parents,
  • order the young person to be at home by a certain time each night,
  • order the young person to perform community service, or to pay a fine,
  • order Intensive Support and Supervision, which provides closer monitoring and more support than a probation order to assist the young person in changing his or her behaviour, or
  • order Attendance which requires the young person to attend a program at specified times and on conditions set by the judge.

Although the judge has the power to place the young person in a foster home or in a detention centre, this is generally a last resort. The court only separates a young person from their family if there are no other ways of dealing with the offender and protecting the public. Instead, the judge may order deferred custody. A Deferred Custody and Supervision Order allows a young person who would otherwise be sentenced to custody to serve the sentence in the community under conditions. This order, however, is not available for offences in which a young person caused or attempted to cause serious bodily harm. For more serious and violent offenders, the judge may order Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision.

A criminal trial can have a number of serious implications and consequences for a young person. For more information and assistance, contact young offender lawyer Mississauga, or visit the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Youth and the Law.