Teenagers accused of committing a crime might have to go to court. They may even have to go several times.
People under 18 who are accused of a crime usually have to go to the Youth Division of the Court of Québec. It is also called youth court.
Documents called a promise to appear, a summons or an appearance notice tell people to appear in court on a specific date and time. The person must be there. This is the first step in the court process. It is called an appearance.
An appearance is not the trial. The trial happens later (see section below).
When people appear in court they are told what crimes they are accused of. They will have to plead guilty or not guilty to each crime. This is not the trial.
When police stop people under 18 for committing a crime, they will usually release the teenager. This means the teenager is allowed to go home while he waits to appear in court (see section above).
But the police might decide to detain the teenager until his appearance. This means that he will have to stay at a youth centre. As a general rule, a teenager cannot be forced to stay in a youth centre for more than 24 hours while waiting to see a judge.
If the police decide to detain a teenager, the next step in the case is a bail hearing. During a bail hearing, a judge in youth court will decide whether the teenager can be released until the trial.
Important! Sometimes the judge decides that a teenager must be detained until his trial. But this does not always mean the teenager has to stay in a youth centre. The judge can decide to put him in the care of a responsible person, such as a parent. In this case, the teenager will have to obey any orders the judge gives him.
Between the Appearance and the Trial
A teenager might have to go to court a few times between his appearance and his trial. These in-between steps are called pro forma hearings.
For example, during a pro forma hearing, a prosecutor might show the teenager and his lawyer the proof against the teenager. The prosecutor is officially called a criminal and penal prosecuting attorney. Prosecutors are government lawyers who take people accused of crimes to court in a criminal case.
The lawyer of an accused person can try to negotiate with the prosecutor during a pro forma hearing.
If a teenager pleads guilty, he will have a trial. A trial is the main step in the court process where lawyers for both sides present proof and arguments to the judge.
During the trial the prosecutor shows the judge proof that the teenager committed the crime. The proof is called evidence. The prosecutor can ask witnesses to tell the judge what they saw or heard. The prosecutor can also show the judge documents, videos or photographs to convince the judge that the teenager committed the crime.
Next, the teenager’s lawyer will defend him by giving proof to show he did not commit the crime. The lawyer can also call witnesses and show the judge documents, videos or photographs.
In Canada, anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. This means it’s not up to an accused person or his lawyer to prove that he did not commit the crime. Instead, the prosecutor has to prove that the person did it.
At the end of the trial, the prosecutor and the teenager’s lawyer will make arguments to convince the judge of their positions. These are called closing arguments.
Verdict: Guilty or Not Guilty
The judge makes a decision after the trial, but not necessarily on the same day. The decision is called a verdict.
The judge will decide whether the teenager is guilty or not guilty of the crime and must give reasons for the decision.
To find a person guilty, the judge has to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the person committed the crime. This means that the judge must be almost 100% sure that the person is guilty. If the judge has a reasonable doubt, she must find the teenager not guilty.
If the judge decides a teenager is not guilty, we say that the teenager has been acquitted. The case is over and the teen’s record will be destroyed a few months later.
If the judge decides the teenager is guilty, she will sentence the teenager. To be sentenced means to be given a punishment.
A sentence is the punishment that people get when they’re found guilty of a crime. The judge decides what sentence is best in each case.
The judge does not always decide the sentence right after the trial. It can take weeks before a teenager knows what his sentence is.
Before deciding on the sentence, the judge can ask for a pre-sentence report. This is a document prepared by a youth worker. A youth worker is a professional who helps teenagers accused of crimes. Youth workers work in a youth centre.
The report contains a lot of information, including what the victim thinks, the teenager’s family and personal situation and whether the teenager had trouble with the law before. This information helps the judge decide what the best sentence will be.