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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.

 

You cannot be charged with a criminal offence until you are 10 years old. Children under 10 are not seen as mature enough to commit criminal offences.

You can be charged with a criminal offence once you turn 10.

If you are between 10 and 13 years you may be responsible for offences 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 13 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 14 or older, you can be charged with a criminal offence, and the police do not have to prove that you knew right from wrong before you can be convicted. This is because the law presumes that you are old enough to be responsible for your actions.

Will I get a criminal record?

Whether you get a criminal record or not depends on whether the court decides to record a conviction against you. A court may find you guilty and even give you a penalty without recording a conviction.

The Court will make its decision depending on:

  • the seriousness of the offence,
  • whether you have committed previous offences,
  • your personal circumstances, and
  • other factors.

    Will I go to the Children's Court?

    If you are under 18, or the offence was committed when you were under 18, you may have to appear in the Children's Court. For some serious offences, you may have the choice to go to the Supreme Court or District Court. It really depends on how serious the offence was, how old you are, if you've been in trouble before, etc. Depending on the circumstances, the police may decide that there is a more appropriate way for you to be dealt with than going to court.

    Caution

    If the offence is your first, or not that serious, you may be given a caution by the police instead of being charged and going to the Children’s Court. If you have offended before, you may still be given a caution, unless the police decide that, due to the number and seriousness of your previous or current offences, it would be inappropriate to only give you a caution.

    A caution by a police officer may be given verbally or in writing. A copy of the formal caution is kept by the police, but it does not amount to a criminal record. The police officer who issued you the caution must give you a ‘caution certificate’, stating:

  • that you were issued a caution,
  • your name,
  • the substance of your offence,
  • the police officer’s name and rank,
  • the place where the caution was issued,
  • the names of the people present when the caution was issued, in general, the nature and effect of a caution, and
  • a description of anything seized by the police officer relating to your offence.

    You have to admit that you were responsible for the offence to receive a caution.

    The police officer may keep anything seized from you relating to your offence for up to 2 days after giving the caution.

    Juvenile Justice Team (JJT)

    If the offence is more serious (even if it is your first offence), or you have offended before, you may be dealt with by a JJT (instead of the Children's Court). You can be referred to a JJT by:

  • a police officer, instead of being charged with an offence, or
  • the court, if you have been charged, before dealing with the charge or before the court records a finding that you are guilty of the offence.

    For a JJT to handle your matter:

    (a) you must accept responsibility for the offence and agree to be dealt with by a JJT rather than by a court; and

    (b) a responsible adult (a parent, guardian, or someone responsible for your day to day care) must be informed and agree to the JJT handling your matter, be present at the meetings, and be willing to take part as the JJT sees fit. However, (if you are 17 years old, and are living independently without the guidance or control of a responsible adult, the JJT may decide that a responsible adult is not necessary).

    The victim will also be invited to take part as the JJT sees fit. If a victim is present at the meetings, the JJT can only handle the matter with the victim’s agreement.

    The process involves you, your parent or guardian (or other responsible adult), the victim, and the workers of the JJT meeting face-to-face to talk about the offence and to agree on an action plan. This may involve a formal apology, community work, a money payment, attendance at a course etc. If you follow the action plan, your charge will be dropped and no criminal conviction will be recorded.

    For more information about JJTs, see this factsheet from the Department of Corrective Services WA.

    Children’s Court

    If the offence is a serious one, or you have a long history of being in trouble, you will be dealt with by the Children’s Court. If the Court finds you guilty, you may get a recorded criminal conviction and face punishment such as attendance at lectures, a Good Behaviour Bond, a Youth Community Based Order, a fine of up to $2,000 or, in the worst circumstances, a sentence in a juvenile detention centre or prison.

    Please note that how you are dealt with will often depend on whether you accept that you are responsible for the offence or not. You should seek legal advice before admitting to any offence.
     

    This information was last updated on 2009.

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