How An Experienced Lawyer Deals With Criminal Charges Under The Youth Criminal Justice Act
Edward Prutschi, Criminal Lawyer with Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman of Toronto, explains how his firm deals with criminal charges under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
My starting point is to take a look at whether or not the Crown can actually prove the charge or whether not the person is actually guilty of having done anything wrong. Youth, no less than anybody else, can get caught up accidentally in the criminal justice system by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or by being misidentified, or by saying something incorrect, just like anybody else can. Step one is always to analyse the case as I would any other case.
In the situation where a youth really has stepped out of line and committed what potentially is a criminal act, lawyers need to be well aware that the Youth Criminal Justice Act gives them a whole host of tools and access to potential resources that are not necessarily available to somebody who’s 18 or over. It’s important that lawyers take advantage of all of those resources. As a lawyer with a young client, I need to figure out the best way to deal with this youth, and how I will persuade the Crown Attorney, and ultimately a judge, that this young person has a future.
It’s more important, even than in the adult sphere, to do extensive background work to answer questions such as the following: “Who is this young person?” “Who is the family?” “What are the sources of difficulty here?” “Is this a substance abuse issue?” “Is this a psychology issue?” “What’s going on at school?” Answers to these questions and others are important to build a profile of this person who is between 12 and 17 years of age.
I must also look at the kind of offence they have been charged with, because the Youth Criminal Justice Act creates a very marked division between offenses of violence and those that can be more broadly defined as non-violent. If I can get the offense categorized as non-violent, there are ways to work out a fair and just sentence that doesn’t see the life of a young person utterly destroyed or ruined.
Even in a circumstance where violence is at the root of an offense, there are opportunities and possibilities that are available. A lot of the work needs to be done early, and it’s appropriate for a lawyer to get counselling in place, get a medical assessment and psychiatric assessment in place and make sure that the resources of family are brought to bear on the youth’s situation at the beginning of the process.
It’s very helpful when there is someone supporting the young person and standing up with them in court; it lets the court know that this person has not been forgotten about. It is much more difficult when a youth comes to us without any background or family support; we don’t have the same ability to put up a positive front and to show a stable background. We’re very sympathetic with parents, as well, because we see a lot of situations where, by the time the youth is in my office with their mom or dad, this isn’t the first time that the things have gone seriously awry. It might be the first time that police have become involved, but the parents have been struggling with behavioural issues or substance abuse problems by the child for some time. And parents, quite understandably, do reach the end of their strength and patience. They don’t know what they can do, and they sort of try to pull back.
Sometimes, though, having this criminal charge brings facilities and opportunities to address the root of the problem, which are imposed by the court. This can be a positive for the parents. When a parent tries to discipline a child in the absence of a criminal code charge, to a large extent the parents powers are limited. On the other hand, if a parent is going to be the person who signed bail, if the parent is going to be the person who’s supervising the conditions of bail, and if the parent is willing to make the tough decision to notify police if a child isn’t following the bail conditions, that creates a different scenario. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get through to a young person, where the parents alone couldn’t have done so in the past.
If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Toronto, Ontario Region, contact Adler Bytensky Prutschi Shikhman for a consultation.