Criminal Law

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When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

You can only be convicted of a criminal offence if you are over 10 years old.  

If you are between 10 and 14, you cannot be convicted of a criminal offence unless there is evidence which says that you knew what you did was seriously wrong when you did it.   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 crime you commit. But you will still be considered a ‘child’ by law until you turn 18 and become a legal adult, where adult penalties apply.  

What happens if I am charged with a crime?

A ‘charge’ means the police believe you have broken the law, and they outline what they think you did and where and when you did it. If a police officer reasonably believes (definition below) you have committed a crime, or you are about to commit a crime, they can give you a summons instead of charging you.  A Summons lets you know in writing that you must go to court.

Usually you will be given a summons unless the police officer thinks you won’t show up in court or there’s a chance you might harm someone else or destroy evidence.

Will I have to go to Court?

Yes, if you are charged you will have to go to court. In most cases you will go to the Youth Justice Court.  This is a special Court that deals with all criminal charges allegedly committed when you were under 18. It doesn’t matter if you turn 18 while you are waiting to go to court, you will still be heard in the Youth Justice Court.

The Youth Justice Court has a responsibility to make sure you understand what is happening in court, so that you have the opportunity to fully participate and understand any procedures. If at any point you do not understand, bring this to the courts attention.

A responsible adult must come to court with you and stay with you during the entire court case. A responsible adult is someone that takes on parental responsibilities in your life. If they don’t attend without a reasonable excuse then the police can bring them to court.

How will I be punished?

Check out our page on Penalties given by a court.  

Will I get a criminal record if I go to court and am found guilty?

You will get a criminal record if you are:

  • Convicted of a crime. ‘Convicted’ means the court has recorded a conviction. A ‘conviction’ is an entry on your criminal record;
  • You have been found guilty of a crime or have pleaded guilty; or
  • Any finding or order made by the Youth Justice Court

If you have any convictions from other states or territories, this will also form part of your criminal record.

The court must decide whether or not to record a conviction against you. Convictions are usually recorded unless there are special circumstances. If it is important for you not to have a conviction it is best to get legal advice.

A Court may give you a penalty without recording a conviction. The Court will take into account the seriousness of the crime, your age and maturity, your health, character, mental condition and other factors when it decides whether or not to record a conviction against you.

Does I have to tell anyone (like an employer) if I’ve been convicted of a crime in Court?

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 from the Youth justice Court will be spent after 5 years, if during those 5 years you have not been in any more trouble in the Northern Territory or any other Australian State or Territory.

If the court doesn’t record a conviction, and you are given a good behaviour order or any other order, this is spent when you complete the conditions of the order.

Some convictions are never spent and will remain on your criminal record. These include sexual crimes or crimes where you were in gaol 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 or vulnerable people (e.g. migrants or the elderly). Also if you want to renew or get a gun license, the authority will look at your spent convictions.

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.

If you are charged with a crime you can also contact the Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343. They provide free advice, information and referrals.

 

If you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait islander Decent you can also contact the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) on 1800 898 251 (Darwin) or 1800 897 728 (Katherine) or 1800 022 823 (Nhulunbuy). This is a free call within the Northern Territory.

To find a private lawyer contact the NT Law Society Legal Referral Service on (08) 8981 5104.

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