Children Are Different: Sentencing Juveniles As Adults

Is it fair to sentence a child to a life in jail for a crime they committed during their youth? Around the world, criminal justice systems have grappled with this question and the answer still remains unclear. Should children who commit crimes be tried as juveniles, or as adults? In this post, we’re going to look at the way minors are treated in Canada’s criminal justice system:

Part of Canadian federal law is the Youth Criminal Justice Act or YCJA. It applies to those aged 12 to 17. This Act recognizes that children lack the maturity of adults; rather than solely punishing them, it seeks to help youth understand their actions and become upstanding members of society. The Act states that the identity of the child must be protected from the media. Judges want the minor to understand they are responsible for their crime and choose sentences that will rehabilitate them. But in the YCJA, it states that for serious circumstances, children can be tried as adults. It does specify that if a child receives a life sentence, they cannot begin serving it in an adult prison until they are 18 years of age.

Others believe that it is wrong to try a child in adult court since they are still developing. A minor’s brain does not function the same as an adult’s when it comes to making decisions, exercising judgement, and anticipating consequences. As such, the punishments and rehabilitative measures should be different. But there is a danger to trying children as juveniles exclusively. It can give the impression that children can get away with crimes that adults cannot. This is one of the reasons why the court system allows children to be sentenced in adult courts. 

In Canada, there has been no death penalty since 1979, but this same law does not exist in the USA. While a child cannot be issued a death sentence, they can be given a life sentence. A juvenile who is found guilty and tried as an adult can receive sentences that range from 10 years to life in prison. A youth typically receives an adult sentence when the crime involves:

Murder (or attempted murder)
Sexual assault
Repeated violent offences 

The child must be 14 years of age or older to be tried in adult court. Instead of receiving a youth record, which is closed when the child turns 18, they will receive a criminal record that lasts a lifetime. When they are found guilty of the crime and the judge believes that a juvenile sentence will not be appropriate for the extent of their actions, they will decide to Direct File them to adult court. For example, a minor who is found guilty of murder in juvenile court can be sentenced in adult court for life in prison. 

A child that’s charged with a crime will be impacted by it for the rest of their life, whether that’s with a criminal record or time served in prison. In these circumstances, children need representation by a criminal lawyer who is prepared to help them with their case.

The criminal lawyers at Brodsky Amy & Gould are well-versed in youth criminal law. If you or your child is found guilty of a crime and sentenced in adult court, we can provide the legal representation that you need.