Accused of a crime as a young offender? Know your rights

If your child faces charges as a young offender, you may be unfamiliar with the legal procedures and rules that govern criminal trials for juveniles. The Youth Criminal Justice Act applies to those between ages 12 and 18 accused of violating federal law. However, even though Ontario laws may favour rehabilitation rather than jail time for young offenders, the impact on your child’s future can still be severe. Consequences could include your child being expelled from school or losing his or her ability to secure employment.

You will likely have questions about your child’s legal rights regarding how to handle police questions and whether to secure the services of a lawyer. The manner in which you and your child react to accusations may play a critical role in the outcome.

How to handle police questions

Circumstances will determine whether your child has to answer any questions — he or she might not even need to provide a name, address or age. However, you may want to take note of the following times when your child can not withhold such information because false information or refusal to answer questions could lead to criminal charges:

  • Traffic stop: If the police stop your child while he or she is riding a bike or driving a car, he or she must provide identifying information.
  • Traffic ticket: When they issue a ticket for a traffic violation, officers will need the child’s name, age and address. Your child may also have to provide his or her driver’s licence along with the vehicle’s registration and insurance papers.
  • Arrest: If they arrest the youth, he or she must provide the identifying information.

What is a statement?

Anything more than a name, address and age could be seen as a statement, and any statement can be used in the criminal court if charges are filed. Your child will have the right to remain silent, so there is no need to think that keeping quiet will make him or her look guilty.

At what stage should you get a lawyer?

The most appropriate time to consult with a lawyer may be as soon as your child becomes aware that police suspect him or her of committing a crime. It might be best to get legal counsel before answering any questions or making a statement — even if he or she denies involvement with any criminal activities. Sadly, police often use the following tactics to trick youths:

  • Claim knowledge: The police attempt to give the impression that they have information — which they do not have.
  • Make false promises: Officers might try to convince the youth to provide information in exchange for promises that they have no intention to keep.

What can a lawyer do for you?

An Ontario lawyer with experience in all aspects of youth crimes can be present if your child decides to speak to the police. Your lawyer can help to ensure nothing your child says can be used against him or her in court. Even if your child did something wrong, your lawyer could attempt to show the court that the actions were not criminal. Moreover, acquiring experienced legal counsel can significantly increase the odds of securing the best possible outcome, which might include a lesser charge or a lighter sentence.


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