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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.
This topic discusses your appearance in the Youth division of the Provincial Court.
Any young person between the ages of 12 years and 17 years who is charged with a criminal offence must attend Youth Court division of the Provincial Court. The police may notify your parents or guardians of the offence you are charged with. If your parents or guardians do not come to Court with you, the Judge may set another Court date and order them to attend Court with you.
The police will give you a document with the date and time you 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. There will also be a date on the document on which you must appear for fingerprinting and photographs. If you do no appear for both your Court appearance or for fingerprinting, the Judge will issue a warrant for your arrest and you will receive another charge of failing to appear. You may also be detained in custody if you were involved in a serious charge or have a history of failing to appear in Court.
You should speak to a lawyer before you go to Court to see if you have a defence. You are considered innocent until proven guilty of the offence you are charged with. The Crown Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. 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.
On your first appearance in Youth Court you are 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, your case may be adjourned (postponed) until you can get a lawyer to represent you. The Judge may also adjourn your case so that your parents can attend Court with you. You must attend Court each and every time you are told to do so.
If you enter a not guilty plea, then a trial date will be set. Your lawyer will need to obtain the particulars of the case against you from the Crown Prosecutor’s office to prepare for trial.
Depending upon the seriousness of your offence, the matter could be diverted to Alternative Measures. You or your lawyer can apply to the Crown Prosecutor to see whether you are eligible for the program. Alternative Measures is offered for a first offence that is not serious. The conditions include your consent to participate and accepting responsibility for the offence you are charged with.
You may have to pay for your actions by doing community service or by apologizing to the victim. If the matter is diverted to Alternative Measures, the Prosecutor will advise the Judge and a later Court date will be set. You must have successfully completed the obligations of the Alternative Measures program before your next Court so that the Judge can withdraw the charges against you If you do not successfully complete the charges, the Crown Prosecutor will continue with the charges against you.
If you plead guilty, it must be your choice, and you must understand the consequences. If the Judge accepts your guilty plea, the Crown Prosecutor will read a summary of the evidence against you. The Judge will ask you or your lawyer if you agree with the evidence. If there is something that you do not agree with be sure to speak up. If the disagreement is over significant facts, then the Judge may not accept your guilty plea and enter a trial date for the matter. The Court will either sentence you immediately or adjourn your case for further information once a guilty plea is set. Sometimes the Judge will ask for a pre-sentence report from a probation officer or require your parents to appear. A pre-sentence report will tell the Court all about you including whether you were in trouble before.
The Judge may impose any one of the following sentences:
- An “Absolute Discharge”. An absolute discharge means there is no conviction despite a finding that the defendant is guilty. This means that even if Judge finds you guilty but you are not given any penalty. Your record will be destroyed after one year.
- A “Conditional Discharge”. This allows you to be discharged on certain conditions. Conditions may include making a donation to charity, undergoing counselling, or doing community service work. The discharge is removed from your record after 3 years.
- A fine up to $1000. You may work the fine off through the Fine Option program instead of paying money.
- An Order to make restitution or pay compensation to the victim.
- An Order for up to 240 hours of community service. This is imposed where you do not have any money and must work a certain number of hours to pay for the damage. This may be ordered where you destroyed public property.
- An Order to report to a probation officer regularly for up to 2 years.
- An Order that you be put in custody. For most offences, the longest you can be put in custody is 3 years. If the offence that you are charged with is a serious offence, then you may be tried in Adult Court if you are at least 14 years old. Serious offences such as murder or attempted murder will automatically be tried in Adult Court unless your lawyer convinces the Youth Court Judge to have the trial stay in Youth Court.
- An Order of Prohibition. You may not drive or possess a firearm for a certain length of time.
Your record of criminal convictions is kept by the police and the Youth Court although the records are kept private. Court records may be destroyed after a certain period of time, but the police can and probably will not destroy your records. If you face new charges as an adult, your youth record may have serious effects on whether you get bail or the sentence you receive. You should ask a lawyer about how the rules on Youth Court records apply to your situation and when your records will be destroyed.