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When Youth Offences Become Adult Offences

The Youth Criminal Justice Act

Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), adopted in 2003, sets forth guidelines for prosecuting youths ages 12 to 18 who are alleged to have committed crimes. The purpose of the YCJA is to provide a balanced approach to the sentencing of teens in an effort to improve offenders’ reintegration process following incarceration – and thus deter further criminal activity – while also taking into consideration victims’ interest in meaningful consequences for criminal conduct.

Sometimes, however, crimes committed by youths can be prosecuted as adult offences, accompanied by the potentially more significant consequences and penalties for the offender upon conviction.

When Can Youth Offences Be Prosecuted As Adult Offences?

A young person who is at least 14 years old at the time of the offence may be subject to adult sentences if the offence is of an extremely violent or serious nature and/or it’s an indictable offence for which an adult would face imprisonment of at least two years. These offences include the most serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, or aggravated sexual assault.

In these cases, the young person would first be tried in youth court and, if convicted, an adult sentence may be imposed. Situations where adult sentences will be considered include cases where the prosecutor is able to show that the youth does not have “diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability” and a youth sentence is not long enough to sufficiently hold the individual accountable.

The consequences for a youth tried as an adult are severe. Not only will the individual face significant jail time, he or she will face the prospect of placement in an adult facility upon their 18th birthday. As such, it is critical that youths and their families obtain a criminal defence lawyer experienced with youth cases in order to minimize the chances that a youthful offender will be tried and sentenced as an adult.


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Mitch Engel Barrister & Solicitor
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