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When can I be convicted of a criminal offence?

Note this page was last reviewed in 2009 and may not be current.

 

Once you turn 10 you can be convicted of a criminal offence. Children under 10 are not seen as mature enough to be held responsible for criminal offences

If you are between 10 and 14 years old, you have a limited responsibility for offences you commit. If you are charged with a crime when you are aged 10 to 14, it must be proved in court that you knew what you did was 'seriously wrong' at the time you did it. 

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. 

If you are in trouble with the police, you should ask someone you can trust for help, such as your parents, a teacher, or your school counsellor. However, your parents and others who give you advice may not be familiar with the law, and you may need to speak with a lawyer.

Do I need a lawyer?

A lawyer can:

  • listen to your problems and explain what you have been charged with,
  • explain what will happen in court,
  • 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, and make sure your rights are protected and that you get a fair trial. 

    If you are charged with a criminal offence, you can:

  • get free legal advice by contacting Legal Aid Victoria on (03) 9269 0120 or 1800 677 402 (freecall for country areas), from 8:45 am - 5:15 pm, Monday to Friday, see their website here, or
  • contact the Law Institute of Victoria on (03) 9607 9311, from 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, to find a private lawyer near you; see their website here.

    For more information about hiring a lawyer, and whether a certain lawyer is a good one for you, check out this website.

    Will I get a criminal record?

    If you plead guilty to an offence or the court finds you guilty, the court may impose a penalty without recording a conviction. This means that you would not have a criminal record. It depends on your situation, and is up to the court to decide whether you will get a criminal record or not.

    For example, in shoplifting cases, the police may give you the option of a fine. If you choose the fine, you will receive no criminal record. 

    However, if you do not choose the fine, police will take you back to the police station, where you will be interviewed in the presence of a parent, guardian or independent person. You will then be summoned to attend court where you would receive a criminal record if you are found guilty.

    What happens on the day?

    You should arrive at court half an hour before your hearing starts. Go to the front counter, where someone will explain where you have to go and what will happen.

    If you have a lawyer, they will likely meet you at the Court and go over the details of your case before the hearing. When your name is called, you will go into the courtroom. You sit behind your lawyer.

    At the first hearing, if you plead guilty and:

  • if the charges are not very serious, your case will probably be finished on the first day.
  • if the charges are more serious, your lawyer may ask for your case to be put off so they can prepare for the case.

    If you plead not guilty:

  • the court will probably tell you to come back on another day to finish the matter. 
  • If it is still not sorted out by then, it will be put off again.

    Will I go to the Children's Court?

    You will go to the Children’s Court if you were between 10 and 18 at the time the offence was committed.

    If you are 19 or over before or during the hearing of the charge for your offence, but were under 18 when your case first went to court, the Children’s Court must still hear the charge against you.

    However, you will go to an adult court if:

  • you were 18 or over at the time you committed the offence, or
  • you are over 19 when the case goes to court, or
  • the offence involves a person’s death, such as murder or manslaughter.

    What happens if you do not turn up at court?

    It is very important to go to court on the day of your hearing. 

    If you do not attend, the court could:

  • if you are on bail or have been charged with a serious offence: issue a warrant so the police can arrest you and bring you to court, or
  • if you have been charged with a less serious offence: make a decision without you being there, and without hearing your side of the story.

    Will it be an open or a closed court?

    The Children’s Court is an open court. That means that your case will be open to the public and anyone can sit in, but nobody is allowed to reveal information about the case which could identify you or the venue of the Court that you are at – this is an offence.

    If there is someone you don’t want in court during your case, or if you want your case to be heard in closed court (that is, not open to the public), talk to your lawyer, who will talk to the magistrate. The magistrate will then decide whether the person(s) you don’t want present should leave the court or if your case should be completely heard in closed court.

    You should try to have your parents or an adult whom you trust with you in court.

     

    This information updated October 2009

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