Crime, the law and criminal records

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When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

Children under 10 cannot be charged for crimes. If you are between 10 and 14, you cannot be found guilty unless there is evidence which says that you knew what you did was wrong when you did it.

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

Once you turn 14 you will be responsible for any crime you commit. You will still be considered a ‘child’ by law until you turn 17 and you will be treated as an 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 suspects you are committing or have committed a crime, a police officer will usually give you a ‘Complaint and Summons’.  This document tells you when you need to show up at court for your case.  In very very serious cases, you might be arrested and then given a document that tells you when you need to go to court.

“Reasonably suspects” means suspicion based on sensible facts. For example if you are seen with bruised or bloody hands, the police officer may suspect you have been in a fight.  

If you have been charged with a crime and need some help, please contact us here.

What Court will I go to?

The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people. In Queensland, young people who are under 17 years of age when charged with crime are dealt with by the Children’s Court, unless the Court orders your matter to be dealt with by an adult court.  

If you are 17 years old or over at the time you commit a crime, you will be dealt with as an adult in the adult courts.  Queensland law is different from the other Australian states, where you will only be dealt with as an adult if you are 18 years old or over at the time you commit a crime.

The Children’s 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.

Your parent or guardian must come to court with you if they are aware of your proceedings. If they are not there then the court can set another date and time for you to come to court with your parent/guardian. The court can also order your parents to come to court.   

What penalties can the Children’s Court give me?

See our page on “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.

If the Children’s Court gives you a reprimand (a very strong warning) or a Good Behaviour Bond then a conviction will not be recorded against you. Otherwise it is up to the Court to decide whether you will get a conviction or not.

In deciding this, the Court will take into account the seriousness of the crime, your age and any other convictions you have, and the impact the conviction will have on your future.  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.

Even though you may not have any criminal convictions recorded, any court (including the Children’s court and adult Courts) can still use this evidence of past guilt when sentencing you for future crimes.

If you want specific advice on criminal records, you can contact us here.

Does a criminal record expire? Will I have to tell people if I’ve been to 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 when you are under 17 years old will be spent after 5 years, if during those 5 years you have not been in any more trouble in Queensland or any other Australian State. A conviction recorded when you are over 17 years old will be spent after 10 years of not being in any more trouble.

Crimes where you were imprisoned for more than 30 months (2.5 years) will never be spent and will always remain on your criminal record.

Some occupations will look at your spent convictions. These include police officers, teachers, fire fighters, bus or taxi drivers, lawyers, or any employment positions involving children.

If you would like to work with children or young you must get a Blue Card. A Blue Card screening looks at the type and nature of all your convictions and non-convictions to decide whether you will be a risk to children. For more information on the Blue Card visit the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian.     

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

If you need some help finding a lawyer, please contact us here.

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 contact Legal Aid on 1300 65 11 88. They provide free information and referrals on all legal issues.

If you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent legal advice is also provided through contacting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service on 1800 012 255.  


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