Criminal Law

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When can I be charged with a crime?

Children under the age of 10 can’t be guilty of 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?

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 (link to definition below) you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime, then you may be given a ‘Notice to Attend Court’ on the spot.  

Otherwise you may be arrested and taken to a police station where you will be questioned and searched. After this the police officer will decide whether to charge you and keep you in custody, or release you with a ‘Notice to Attend Court’.

*Note: when referring to notice to attend court, a hyperlink can be inserted that takes viewer to the next heading.

What is a ‘Notice to Attend Court’?

A notice to attend court lets you know in writing that you must go to court.

It lets you know the time, date and place of your court hearing so you can attend and answer the allegations against you. It also gives you a brief description of the crime you have committed and who was involved.

This is usually given to you by a police officer who must explain to you the effect of the notice and consequences of not following it. A copy should also be sent to a responsible adult e.g. your parent or guardian.

If you do not show up to court on this date then the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. This means that the police can arrest you and keep you in custody until you appear before the court.      

Will I have to go to the Children's Court?

The Children’s Court deals with most crimes committed by young people under the age of 18 years. If you are charged with a crime when you are under 18 years, and you subsequently turn 18, then you may still be heard in the Children’s Court.

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.

A responsible adult (someone over 18 years of age that you trust) must come to court with you unless they have a valid excuse waiting for them would cause too much delay. The court can order your responsible adult to come to court if they do not do so. If the court decides to continue with your hearing without a responsible adult, then they must let this adult know of the charges against you and any decision it has made about you.

Generally it is best if you come to court with a responsible adult you trust. This is important because they can provide you with support during the whole court process.

Can anyone stay and hear my case when I am in court?

It is up to the court to decide whether or not to exclude the public or other people from your court room. This means anyone can stay and hear your case, unless the court believes that a person or the public’s presence in court will harm or damage your interests.

If the court does exclude someone from the court room, and they are a victim or have suffered from your crime, then the court can give them your name, age, address and details of the crime you were charged with.

Can my name be published?

Any information that identifies you, a witness in your case, or a victim is not allowed to be published in any way to the public. This includes your address, names of family members or relatives.

It is a crime to make this information available to people who are not entitled to have it. So if you or someone you know is before the Children’s Court don’t talk about it on sites like Facebook where many people are able to access this information.    

How will I be disciplined?

Depending on the type of crime, its seriousness, and your individual circumstances, there are different ways the Youth Court disciplines a young person. These different options exist because the Court recognises that young people may not always understand the consequences of their actions. This means harsh punishments are not always the best solution. The use of alternative solutions means that you are given a second chance, to reflect on your actions so that you won’t do the same thing again.

Detention should only be used as a last resort.

Generally the court will issue you with a penalty or an order for committing a crime. For example you may have to pay a fine, complete community service, or placed on a good behaviour. Before you agree to this the court must explain to you the effect and consequences of such an order, as well as the right you have to review/appeal the order. See our page penalties given by a court. If you are over 18 years old at the time you are sentenced, then the court will sentence you as an adult.

But for some crimes, if you accept responsibility for your actions, then your issue can be dealt with more directly and quickly without the need to go to court. This includes receiving a caution or being referred to a juvenile justice team.

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; and
  • The court has recorded a conviction. A ‘conviction’ is an entry on your criminal record.

There is a list of crimes, that if you are found guilty for committing one or more of them, the court must record a conviction. These are generally more serious crimes and include murder, sexual assault, selling or supplying drugs, or drink driving.   

If you are found guilty of a crime that is not on this list, and you are not sentenced to gaol, then the court will not record a conviction unless there are special circumstances to do so.

If two years have passed since the conviction has been recorded, and you have completed your sentence or complied with any orders of the court, than this conviction will no longer be regarded as a ‘conviction’.  

Police issued cautions are not convictions so they will not appear on your criminal record and you don’t need to tell other people. This is the same if the police refer you to a juvenile justice team.  

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

What information will be released?

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 will be spent after 10 years (plus any time you were in jail) if during these 10 years you have not been in any more trouble either in WA or any other State or Territory; otherwise the time period will start all over again. Receiving a fine of $500 or less will not restart this period. Some convictions for cannabis can be spent after 3 years of not being in further trouble.   

You must apply to have your conviction/s spent. If it is a serious conviction you must apply to the court, for lessor convictions you can apply to the Commissioner of Police via their website. A serious conviction is one where you were in gaol for more than one year, or received a fine of $15,000 or more. A lessor conviction includes everything else such as orders, or court fines under $15,000.

A conviction where you received a sentence of life imprisonment will never be spent and will remain on your criminal record.

Some occupations will look at your spent convictions. These include police officers, teachers, fire fighters, or any other employment involving children. Your spent convictions will be looked at when you are applying for licenses such as gun licenses.  

Working with children requires you to pass an assessment. This check looks at your criminal history including all convictions to decide whether you will be a risk to children.  

Do I need a lawyer?

If you are arrested, or taken to the police station to be interviewed, the Police must provide you with a chance to speak to a lawyer before they ask you any questions.

A lawyer is important 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 are charged with a crime you can contact Legal Aid on 1300 650 579, from 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday. They provide free legal advice and information to young people.

If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, legal advice is also provided through contacting the Aboriginal Legal Service on 1800 019 900 or visit their website for locations of their offices.    

Some Definitions

Reasonably suspects: Facts that would create a suspicion or uneasiness in the mind of the police officer and would lead them to form a view that you have done something illegal or are about to do something illegal.    

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