Can Teens Get Adult Punishments?

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From age 12 onwards, people are responsible for the crimes they commit. Youth under 18 generally get special punishments. But in some cases, the punishment can be just as severe as it would be for an adult.


Special Punishments for Teens

Teens under 18 who have committed a crime are usually not punished in the same way as adults. The law has special punishments for teens. Punishments for crimes are called sentences.


Some Exceptions

Sometimes teens can get punishments that are just as severe as what an adult would get for the same crime. But this is rare.

Teens under 16 can never get an adult punishment.

Teens 16 or older can get an adult punishment, but only for very serious crimes. Here are examples of serious crimes:

  • murder or attempted murder
  • some types of sexual assault
  • selling drugs (called trafficking) for a criminal gang
  • robbery using a weapon


Who Decides?

The criminal and penal prosecuting attorney is a government lawyer, often called a prosecutor. The prosecutor takes people accused of crimes to court in a criminal trial.

The prosecutor can ask the judge in youth court to give an adult punishment.

The prosecutor must prove these things:

  • The teen is as morally guilty as an adult.
  • A youth punishment would not be enough to hold the teen accountable for the crime.

The court takes into account different things about the teen and the crime, including these things:

  • the teen’s age, level of maturity and personality
  • the seriousness and circumstances of the crime
  • whether the teen had trouble with the law or was found guilty of a crime in the past.


Getting an Adult Punishment: A Big Difference

Punishments for teens are usually lighter than adult punishments. For example, the harshest punishment a teen can get for attempted murder is three years under custody and supervision. But teens punished as adults could be sentenced to life in prison for the same crime.  

Also, a teen who commits a crime has a right to confidentiality. This means that no one can give   information to the public that would reveal who the teen is. But teens who get adult sentences do not have this right.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.