Crime, the law and criminal records

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When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?

If you’re under 10, you can’t be charged with a crime.  This is because the law assumes that children under 10 are too young to understand that what they are doing is wrong.

If you are between 10 and 14 years you may be responsible for crimes you commit.  If you are charged with a crime at this age it must be proved in court that you knew what you did was ‘seriously wrong’ at the time 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. 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/have to go to Court?

More often, if the police want you to go to court, they won’t charge you, but they will give you a document called a Notice to Appear. This document explains that you have to go to court on a particular day for your case.

If you are charged with a crime, police may arrest you and you will be taken to a police station for questioning.   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.  After that, the police will probably release you and give you a document called a “Summons”. This is a document which says you have to go to court on a particular day.  

If you need some specific advice, please contact us here

Will I go to the Children's Court?

If you are charged or asked to appear at court, you will probably go to the Children’s Court. The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people.  You will be taken to the Children’s Court if you are charged with a crime when you are under 18 years old. If you are 19 or over before or during the hearing of the charge for your crime, but were under 19 when your case first went to court, the Children’s Court must still hear the charge against you.

The Children’s Court has a responsibility to make sure you understand what is happening in the proceeding and any procedures that are taken. So if at any point you do not understand, bring this to the courts attention.

How will I be punished?

Check out our page on LINK:  “Penalties given by a Court” page.

Will I get a criminal record?

A criminal record sets out a person’s past criminal convictions. A criminal conviction is when:

  • 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 you plead guilty to a crime or the court finds you guilty, the court may impose a penalty without recording a conviction. Whether a conviction is recorded depends on many factors including the type of crime you have committed, your personal circumstances and whether you have accepted responsibility for your actions.  

Formal cautions, warnings and attendance of group conferences are not recorded on your criminal record. Criminal charges dealt with through diversion programs are also not recorded.

If you receive an infringement notice and have paid the full fee in time then this will not appear on your criminal record.

For more specific advice on criminal records, you can contact us here.

What information will be released?

A criminal record, especially with convictions may make it harder for you to travel overseas or get some jobs. So it is important for you to know what information will be released.

Even though the Courts take care in deciding whether to record a conviction, in Victoria the release of your criminal record is managed by the Police through their ‘Information Release Policy’.  

Under this Policy any findings of guilt where there is no conviction, as well as any other penalties issued (e.g. a good behaviour bond) will be released. If you are under investigation, but have not yet been to court, details of this will be released with a statement saying you still have to go to court. Traffic crimes are only released if you went to prison.

But if more than five years has passed and you were under 18 years old when you were last found guilty of a crime, then no detail of this will be released. However if you were in gaol for longer than 30 months, this information is always released.

Having a criminal record can affect your employment opportunities. The Police can only let other people know what is on your criminal record if you give them your consent.

There are some occupations where you must tell them of your criminal record. These include teachers, health practitioners, lawyers, security guards, aged care workers, taxi drivers and bus drivers. If you apply for a public sector job, teaching job, or apply to the police force, you will automatically have a criminal record check.

If you would like to work with children, you will need to complete a ‘working with children check’. If you have committed sexual crimes, or serious violence or drug crimes then you will not be able to work 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 need 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 Victoria on 1800 792 387. They provide free legal advice and information to young people over the phone.

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, legal advice is also provided through contacting the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service on (03) 9418 5999 or 1800 064 865 (free call)

To find a private lawyer near you contact the Law Institute of Victoria on (03) 9607 9311, from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday or visit their website here.

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