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Yahoo!, Cdn Press: A look at how the Canadian courts handle young people charged with murder

January 26, 2016 — 

The Canadian Press interviewed Faculty of Law Professor David Milward about the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They publish his response in full.

As Chinta Puxley at Canadian Press reports:

A 17-year-old boy has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder after a shooting in northern Saskatchewan. Because of his age, he falls under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. David Milward, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, explains how Canadian courts handle young people charged with murder:

Can a youth be “tried as an adult?”

Canada doesn’t have that distinction at the trial stage, but if the charges are serious enough, the attorney general can direct the Crown to request that a youth be sentenced as an adult if convicted.

What’s the difference between being sentenced as an adult and being sentenced as a youth on charges such as these?

There’s a substantial difference. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a young person can’t spend more than 10 years in custody. The sentence for first-degree murder as an adult is life without parole for 25 years and there are new sentencing provisions for multiple murders. Under the new rules, someone convicted of four counts of first-degree murder may not be eligible for parole for 100 years.

What might convince a judge to sentence a youth as an adult?

The Youth Criminal Justice Act assumes that a young person who commits a crime is less morally responsible than an adult, but if the crime is severe and shows premeditation, a judge may rule in favour of an adult sentence. There is also a big difference between a 14-year-old and 17-year-old. At 17, an accused is closer to adulthood — something which may convince a judge to impose an adult sentence.

What might convince a judge to reject an adult sentence for a youth?

A judge will look at the accused’s family history and at mitigating circumstances, including whether the accused was bullied. A person’s cultural background — including whether the accused is indigenous — can also be a factor.

When would a judge decide if a youth is to be sentenced as an adult?

Although the Crown has to give notice well before a trial if it wants to request an adult sentence, a judge wouldn’t hear arguments and make a ruling until after a trial and guilty verdict.

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