Criminal Law

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When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

Children are not held criminally responsible until they have reached a certain age. In South Australia, you can only be convicted of a criminal offence if you are over 10 years old.

If you are between 10 and 14, you can be found guilty if there is evidence which suggests that you knew what you did was “seriously wrong” when you did it.  Just being ‘naughty’ is not enough.

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.

Any young person 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.

What happens if I am charged with a crime?

If a police officer sees you committing a crime or reasonably suspects you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime, then you can be charged.  

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. Once you have been charged the police officer will either keep you in custody or give you a ‘Summons’.  A summons let you know in writing when you have to go to court.

Will I have to go to the Youth Court?

The Youth Court deals with most crimes committed by young people.  If you are charged with a serious crime (link to definition below), and you are seen as a risk to the community then you may be dealt with as an adult and go to the adult courts. This depends on the type of crime you’re charged with, whether you have committed past crimes, and whether or not you have followed the courts directions and bail in the past.  

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.

How will I be punished?

Check out our page on ‘Penalties given by the Court’

Will I get a criminal record if I go to court?

You will get a criminal record if you are convicted of a crime. ‘Convicted’ means you have been found guilty of a crime or the crime has been proved;

Your criminal record will also list the times you have been to court and the types of sentences you have been given.

Do I have to tell anyone, like future employers, if I am found guilty?

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. You must also let insurance companies know of any driving offences you have.

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 record.

If you receive a conviction when you are under 18 years old, and you are not dealt with as an adult, then this conviction will be spent after 5 years of you not being in any more trouble within any Australian State or Territory. Any conviction as an adult is spent after 10 years.

Some convictions are never spent and will remain on your criminal record. These include sexual crimes where you were imprisoned or crimes where you were imprisoned for more than 24 months as a youth (under 18 years old).

Some occupations will look at all of your convictions including those that have been spent. The following is a list of some situations where your spent convictions will be seen:

  • If you are seeking employment as a teacher or anywhere else that involves the care of children or vulnerable people (e.g. elderly or disabled people). You will need to obtain police clearance before working in these positions.
  • If you are seeking employment as a police officer or fire fighter (if your conviction relates to setting something on fire).
  • Professional bodies such as doctors and lawyers will also look at your spent convictions to determine whether you are of good character for that profession and whether you can obtain a professional license.
  • Government bodies have access to this information including the courts so they can use this when sentencing you for future crimes.

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 contact the Youth Legal Service on (02) 8463 3533. They provide free advice and information to people under 18 years old. Alternatively you can contact the Free Legal Service Commission Helpline on 1300 654 314 (9am to 4:30pm Mon-Fri).

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander legal advice is also provided through contacting the Aboriginal Legal Service Hotline on 1800 366 424.  

To find a private lawyer visit the SA Law Society http://www.lawsocietysa.asn.au/other/referral_service.asp

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