Criminal Law

Navigate this page

When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

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

However, if you are between 10 and 14, you can’t be found guilty unless there is evidence which says that you knew what you did was “seriously wrong” when 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 crime you commit. You will still be considered a ‘child’ by law until you turn 18.  

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.  Usually instead of formally charging you, the police officer will give you a notice called a Complaint and Summons.

This is a document which tells you when you need to go to court for your case.  In very very rare cases, you might be arrested and taken to the police station, but this is very unlikely.  

What court will I go to?

The Youth Justice Division of the Magistrate’s Court deals with most crimes committed by people under 18 years old. Even if you turn 18 years old at the time of your hearing, you will still be heard in the Youth Division of the Magistrates Court and be sentenced as a child.

But if you are 15 years or older, and you are charged together with another person who is 18 or over, you might have to go to an adult court.

It is the duty of the court to make sure you understand what is happening during your hearing, so do not hesitate to ask questions.

There are some crimes called ‘prescribed offences’ where if you are charged with them you will be heard in an adult court such as the Magistrates Court (Criminal Division) or Supreme Court. These are serious crimes and include charges for murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder. If you are 14 years old or over and are charged with sexual assault, rape, or armed robbery then you will also be heard in an adult court.

If you are 17 years old and are charged with a traffic offence such as drink driving, driving without a license, or hooning then you will go to an adult court and will be treated as if you were an adult.  

How will I be punished?

Good question.  Check out our page on LINK: Penalties given by a 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 for a crime or pleaded guilty, and
  • The court has recorded a conviction. A ‘conviction’ is an entry on your criminal record.

A conviction will not be recorded if you:

  • Receive an informal or formal caution
  • Attend a community conference
  • Go to court and the charge is dismissed
  • Are reprimanded in court
  • Placed on good behaviour
  • Are placed on conditions

The court will decide whether to record a conviction if you receive a fine, probation order, community service order, or rehabilitation program order.

In deciding whether or not to record a conviction the court will look at the type of crime, your age, the impact the conviction will have on your future, and if you have been disciplined in the past (including any cautions you have received or community conferences you have attended).   

If you are sentenced to a period of detention then a conviction will always be recorded.  

Will my record always stay or does it expire?

A criminal record may affect your ability to get a job, travel overseas, apply for rent or stay at a refuge, and affect 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 on your criminal record can be ‘annulled’. This means you don’t have to let anyone know about them even if they ask, they won’t be shown on your criminal record, and they won’t form part of your criminal history.

A conviction will become annulled if you are of good behaviour for 5 years from the time the conviction was recorded. Good behaviour means you have not been convicted of another crime. Traffic penalties are not included in this.

Only minor convictions can be annulled, so if you have been convicted of serious crimes these can never be removed from your criminal record. These include:

  • Crimes where you have been to prison for more than 6 months
  • Sexual crime including rape or sexual assault
  • Murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, or armed robbery

Some occupations will look at your annulled convictions. These include lawyers, police officers, customs officers, prison officers, fire fighters, doctors, bookies, teachers, and anyone working with 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

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.

Got a question you
 can’t get answered?

If you have a problem or a question, you can send it to us today and we can provide you with free advice, information and referrals to help solve your problem. Just click on the button below.

Get help now

Select Your State or Territory

The law is different in each state and territory. Please select your state or territory to view legal information that applies to you.