Criminal Law

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When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

You cannot be charged with a criminal offence until you are 10 years old. Children under 10 are not seen as mature enough to commit criminal offences. If you are between 10 and 14 years you may be responsible for offences you commit.

If you are charged with a crime at this age it must be proved in court that you knew what you did was ‘seriously wrong’ at the time you did it, and not just ‘naughty’.

Any young person aged 10 to 14 who gets in trouble with the police should get legal advice, as they may have a defence if they did not fully understand the consequences of what they did.

Once you turn 14 you will be responsible for any offence that you commit.

Will I have to go to Court?

If you are charged with a crime, you will have to go to Court. The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people.  If you are under 18 years old when the crime was committed you will usually go to the Children’s Court. But if you are over 18 years old when you are being sentenced, then you will be sentenced as an adult.

For more information about the Children’s Court, check out our page on LINK: Penalties given by the Children’s Court.   

Will I get a criminal record?

You will get a criminal record if you are convicted of a crime. ‘Convicted’ means:

  • You have been found guilty of a crime or have pleaded guilty; or
  • The court has recorded a conviction. A ‘conviction’ is an entry on your criminal record.

It is up to the Court to decide whether you will get a conviction or not. The Court will take into account the seriousness of the offence, your age and maturity, your health and other factors when it decides whether to record a conviction against you or not.

A serious crime means you carry out an act with the intention of harming another person or taking away their property. Some examples of serious crimes include: murder, assault, rape, carrying guns or weapons.

What information will be released?

A criminal record, especially with convictions may make it harder for you to travel overseas, get some jobs, apply for rent or stay at a refuge, and can affect any future court appearances.

For example, if you want to work in the public sector you must have a criminal record check. Even some employers can ask you for a record check, but they can only do so with your permission.

Some convictions in your criminal record can be ‘spent’. This means you don’t have to let anyone know about them even if they ask, and they won’t be shown on your criminal history.

A conviction when you are under 18 years old will be spent after 5 years, if during those 5 years you have not been in any more trouble in the ACT or any other Australian State.

If you are given a good behaviour order or any other order, it is spent when you complete the conditions of that order.   Some convictions are never spent and will remain on your criminal record. These include sexual crimes or crimes where you were imprisoned for more than 6 months.

Some occupations will look at your spent convictions. These include police officers, teachers, fire fighters, or any other employment involving children.   Working with children or vulnerable people (e.g. migrants or elderly) requires you to pass a ‘background check’. This check looks at your criminal history including all convictions and non-convictions to decide whether you will be a risk to children.

Do I need a lawyer?

If you are charged with a crime, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer.  A lawyer is important because they can:

  • Listen to your problems and explain what you have been charged with,
  • Give you advice about what will happen if you are found guilty, and whether to plead guilty or not guilty,  
  • Give your side of the story, answer questions in court, deal with all the paperwork and make sure your rights are protected and that you get a fair trial,
  • Explain what will happen in court

Helpful information

If you’re under 25 and have been charged with a crime or are in trouble with police, please contact us here and we can give you free information and advice.

You can also contact the Legal Aid Youth Law Centre on (02) 6173 5410. They provide free advice, information and referrals to people aged between 12 and 25 years. You can also call Legal Aid Helpline on 1300 654 314.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander you can get legal advice by calling the Aboriginal Legal Service Hotline on 1800 765 767.  

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