The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses your appearance in the Youth Justice Courts of the Provincial Court of Alberta.
Youth Justice Court
Any young person between the ages of 12 and 17 years (including persons charged the day before they turn 18 years old) who is charged with a criminal offence must attend Youth Justice Court of the Provincial Court.
After being charged with a criminal offence, the police will give the young person a document with the date and time they must appear in Court. The document may be a Summons, a Promise to Appear or a Recognizance that you signed in front of the police officer. For some offences, the document will have a date on which you must appear for fingerprinting and photographs.
The police may notify a young person’s parents or guardians of the offence they are charged with. An offender may be detained in custody if they were involved in a serious crime or have a history of failing to appear in Court. If a young person has been detained by a Justice of the Peace, that decision to detain is reviewable by a Youth Justice Court. This affords a young person a new bail hearing in Provincial Court.
If the offence is a serious offence, then the accused may elect to be tried in Court of Queen’s Bench instead of Provincial Court if they are at least 14 years old and the Crown Prosecutor has given notice that they intend to seek an Adult Sentence. This includes offences such as murder or attempted murder.
Attending Youth Justice Court
A youth charged with a criminal offence should speak to a lawyer before attending Court, to see if they have any defence to their charge and what their options could be in dealing with their youth court matters.
Attend Court each and every time you are told to do so, and have your parents or guardians attend court with you if they are able to. If parents or guardians do not come to Court, the Judge may set another Court date and order them to attend Court with the accused. If a young person does not appear for a Court appearance or fingerprinting, the Judge will issue a warrant for their arrest, and they will receive another charge for failing to appear.
On a first appearance in Youth Court a young person may be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the offence. Do not enter a plea until you have spoken with a lawyer. If there is no plea entered, a case may be adjourned (postponed) until the accused can get a lawyer assigned to their case. The Judge may also adjourn a case so that the accused’s parents or guardians can attend Court. In Alberta, a request can be made for the Court to order that counsel be appointed through Legal Aid Alberta if the young person makes an application for a lawyer to Legal Aid Alberta.
If a young person pleads guilty, it must be their choice and they must understand the consequences. A guilty plea includes acceptance and admissions of fact. If you do not agree with something regarding the facts of the charges you are entering guilty pleas to, be sure to say so before you enter a guilty plea. If the disagreement is over significant facts, then the Judge may not accept your guilty plea, and will enter a trial date for the matter.
If the Judge accepts a guilty plea, the Crown Prosecutor will read a summary of the evidence. The Judge will then ask the accused if they agree with the evidence.
After a plea is accepted by the Judge, the Court will either sentence the accused immediately or adjourn the case to obtain further information. Sometimes the Judge will ask for a pre-sentence report from a probation officer, medical assessments, other sentencing materials, and/or require parents to appear. A pre-sentence report will tell the Court all about the accused, including their criminal history.
Pleading Not Guilty
If a young person enters a plea of not guilty, then a trial date will be set. In preparation for trial, an accused’s lawyer will need to obtain the particulars of the case from the Crown Prosecutor’s office. A person may change their plea to not guilty at any time during the preparation process.
Once the trial begins, the Crown Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the offence you are charged with. A young person is considered innocent until proven guilty of any offence they are charged with.
If you appear in Court without a lawyer and face a criminal or drug charge, you can tell the Judge that you want a lawyer and the Judge will make sure that you get one. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the Judge will refer you to Legal Aid Alberta.
Depending upon the seriousness of an offence, the matter could be diverted to alternative measures, specifically the Extrajudicial Measures or Extrajudicial Sanctions programs. The Extrajudicial Measures program is offered before a Young Person is charged. The Extrajudicial Sanctions program is offered to young persons charged for the first time with less serious offences. The conditions of both programs include a young person’s consent to participate, and acceptance of responsibility for the offence they could be charged with or are charged with.
During this program, a young person may have to do a number of different tasks as directed by a Youth Justice Committee or by the Program Coordinator. These tasks can include, but are not limited to, community service, community programs, presentations, etc.
If the matter is diverted to Extrajudicial Sanctions, the Prosecutor will advise the Judge and a later Court date will be set. You must have successfully completed the obligations of the Extrajudicial Sanctions program before your next Court date so that the Judge can withdraw the charges against you. If you do not successfully complete the obligations, the Crown Prosecutor will continue with their prosecution of the charges against you.
If a young person pleads guilty, or if they are found guilty after a trial, they are sentenced for the offence that they committed. The young person receives a sentence, which they must complete. A Judge may impose any of the following sentences;
- A reprimand, where the youth is cautioned by the judge and has a Youth Justice Record for a minimum of two months.
- An Absolute Discharge, where a youth will have a Youth Justice Court record, but are neither considered guilty, nor convicted. Individuals specified in the Youth Criminal Justice Act will have access to your record for up to one year (s 119(2)).
- A Conditional Discharge allows a youth to be discharged on certain conditions. Conditions may include making a donation to charity, undergoing counselling, or doing community service work. Individuals specified in the Youth Criminal Justice Act will have access to your record for up to three years (S. 119(2)) from the date of sentencing, if there are no breaches of the Conditional Discharge order.
- A fine up to $1,000.00. A youth may also work the fine off through the Fine Option program.
- An Order for restitution to return, replace, or repair property to the owner or to pay compensation to the victim.
- An Order to attend a non-residential program for up to 240 hours of community service, over a period of no longer than 6 months. This is usually imposed where a person does not have any money and may be ordered if public property was destroyed.
- An Order to report to a probation officer regularly for up to two years.
- An Order that places the youth in custody or jail. For most offences, the longest they can be put in custody is three years. Custodial sentences in Youth Justice Court include a period of custody as well as a period of community supervision.
- An Order of Prohibition. You may not drive or possess a firearm for a certain length of time.
Youth Justice Court Record
A Youth Justice Court record is not a criminal record. A record of findings of guilt is kept by the police and the Youth Court. All of these records are confidential and are kept private. Only those people specified in the Youth Criminal Justice Act have access to your youth record.
Note, that if a young person gets sentenced as an adult, for a crime that they committed when they were under 18 years of age, this will go on their adult record. This also means that the normal protections of a young person’s identity in court proceedings no longer apply once they receive an adult sentence.
A youth record will not automatically close once a person reaches 18 years of age. A youth has a right to have their youth record closed after the time specified for their offence. A youth record will last 3 years after a sentence is completed for a summary conviction offence and 5 years after a sentence is completed for an indictable offence. If a person commits another offence while their record is still open, their record may be maintained for a longer period of time depending on the nature of the last sentence on their youth record. If a person commits an offence when they are over 18 years of age and their youth record is still open, their youth record may become a permanent adult record. If an adult is facing new charges, their youth record may impact their ability to get bail, as well as the sentence they receive if convicted.
To find out if your record is closed or destroyed, visit your local police station to check the R.C.M.P. files for your record. You will need to bring photo identification. You should ask a lawyer about how the rules on Youth Court records apply to your situation and when your records will be destroyed.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.