Crime, the law and criminal records

You can’t be charged with a crime if you are under 10. When you are under 18, the police and the courts have to treat you differently to adults, and there are special rules if you are aged between 10 and 14. 

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here. 

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Can I be charged with a criminal offence?

You can only be charged with a crime if you are 10 years or older. This is because the law says that children under 10 are too young to understand that what they are doing is legally wrong. 

If you are between 10 and 14, you cannot be found responsible for crimes you commit unless there is evidence which says that you knew what you did was legally wrong when you did it. This means that you knew what you did was ‘seriously wrong’ at the time you did it, and not just ‘naughty’. We recommend that you get legal advice if you are between 10 and 14 and you are in trouble with the police. 

Once you turn 14, you can be held legally responsible for any crime you commit. 

If you are over 10, and you commit a crime, then there are a range of responses police can take. For example, they can decide to take no action, they can give you a warning or a caution, or they can ask you to go to a conference. They can also charge you. For more information about this, you can check out our pages on The Youth Justice System. 

What happens if I am charged with a criminal offence?

A ‘charge’ means the police believe you have broken the law and you should go to court. The court will decide if you should be punished for it and if so, what your punishment will be.

If a police officer has a good reason to believe you are committing or have committed a crime, they will usually give you a ‘Complaint and Summons’.  This document tells you when you have to go to court and what you have been charged with. In very serious cases, you might be arrested first.

What Court will I go to?

The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people who are under 18.

Generally, your parent or guardian has to come to court with you. If they are not there, then the court can set another date and time for you to come to court with your parent or guardian. The court can also order your parents to come to court.

The Children’s court also has to make sure you understand what is happening in court and give you an opportunity to participate. If there is anything you do not understand in Court, it is really important that you let someone know. 

There are some situations where a young person who is nearly 18 will be treated as an adult. In these cases, your charges will be heard by an adult court, such as the District Court of Queensland or the Supreme Court of Queensland.  

If you are 18 years or over at the time you commit a crime, your case will also be heard in an adult court.  

What penalties can the Children’s Court give me?

Great question! See our page on “Penalties given by a court”. 

Will I get a criminal record?

A criminal record is the formal record of offences that you have been convicted of because you have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a crime by a court.

If the Children’s Court gives you a reprimand (a very strong warning) or a Good Behaviour Bond then you will not have a conviction recorded. Otherwise, it is up to the Court to decide whether a conviction will be recorded. In deciding this, the Court will look at things like the seriousness of the crime, your age, any other convictions you have, and the impact that the conviction will have on your future.  

What does it mean if I have a criminal record?

If you have a criminal record, this can affect your ability to apply for some jobs, work with children, work as a volunteer, apply for insurance, apply for a rental property or get an overseas visa.

If you are convicted of another offence in the future, the court can also look at your criminal record and see your past convictions. This may affect the punishment you are given, for example, if you have convictions for similar offences, you may be given a harsher punishment. 

Does a criminal record last forever?

Criminal records don’t necessarily last forever. Some convictions can expire, which means they won’t show up on your criminal record anymore.

In general, this means you don’t have to tell someone else (such as an employer) about them when asked about your criminal history. However, there are some situations where expired convictions can be taken into account for employment – for example if you want to become a police officer, teacher, lawyer, or work in any employment positions involving children.

A conviction when you are under 18 years old will usually expire after 5 years, if you are not convicted of another crime. A conviction recorded when you are over 18 years old will usually be spent after 10 years if you are not convicted of another crime.

Crimes where you were imprisoned for more than 30 months (2 and a half years) will never expire and will always be on your criminal record.

Do I need a lawyer?

If you are charged with a crime, it’s a really 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

You can also read more about police interviews on our webpage Police powers and my rights. 

Where can I get legal help?

If you are under 18 and you have been charged with a crime, we recommend you contact Legal Aid Queensland as soon as possible on 1300 65 11 88. They provide free information and referrals on all legal issues. 

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, you can also contact the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service on 1800 012 255.   

If you’re under 25 you can also contact us here for free and confidential legal information and advice. 

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