There is no doubt that when an individual commits a serious crime, justice should be executed, and an offender should face the consequences of his or her deeds. At first glance, such reasoning seems robust and applicable in all cases. However, when it comes to juvenile delinquents, there is a general lack of consensus as to whether they should be charged as adults in the criminal justice system. Instead of taking merely punitive measures, it could be more reasonable to provide a minor with guidance and mentorship to lead him or her in the right direction. This essay will discuss the issue of adult sentencing for youth in the Canadian context and examine several cases of serious crimes committed by underage individuals. Possible solutions for tackling the issue will also be provided within the paper.
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Adult Sentencing for Youth: Canadian Legal Perspective
The Canadian criminal justice system outline some prerequisites for giving an underage individual an adult sentence. Adult sentencing for youth is possible if the offense committed by a minor is murder, an attempt at murder, manslaughter, or sexually aggravated assault. However, it is possible to convince the court that youth sentencing will still hold the convicted person fully accountable for their actions.
All these offenses enlisted are considered presumptive offenses. An underage individual can receive an adult sentence for a non-presumptive crime if it is his or her third serious offense. Usually, such cases are most contentious, vary greatly in-process and criteria, and attract a significant deal of media attention. At the same time, adult sentencing cases with youth involved are rather rare: fewer than 100 happen per year and constitute 1 in 1000 court cases (Statistics Canada).
In recent years, the criminal justice system has undergone major changes as in 2003, the Youth Offenders Act (YOA) was replaced by the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA). It was observed that under the Youth Offenders Act, there was a disproportionately high number of harsh sentences and incarcerations for less serious offenses. Before the enactment of the YCJA, underage offenders had to be transferred to adult court, which was time-consuming and caused delays.
The youth had to remain detained for a long time before hearing the sentence. Under the YCJA, adult hearing was substituted with youth hearing even in the case of adult sentencing (“The Youth Criminal Justice Act”). Thus, akin to many countries in the Northern hemisphere, the Canadian government decided to reform the criminal justice system, making it more restorative than punitive for youth. Another purpose was to reduce excessive reliance on incarceration and find alternative ways of tackling juvenile delinquency.
Serious Crimes Committed by Youth: Prominent Cases in Canada
Even though the idea of restorative justice for youth might sound perfectly reasonable on paper, some cases are so outrageous that they undermine the integrity of the new strategy. For instance, in 2005, for the first time in the legal history of Canada, two children killed their mother (Batchelor). Two girls from Toronto, dubbed “Bathtub Murder Girls” by the press, plotted the murder of their parents in cold blood.
Their mother was raising the girls alone; she was working two jobs at a hospital and struggling with alcohol addiction. The girls, 16 and 15 years old at the time, got the mother intoxicated with vodka and Tylenol 3s. Once the woman lost consciousness, her daughters drowned her in the bathtub at their house. Despite the contents of the crime, both girls received youth sentences – six years each. The case of “Bathtub Murder Girls” generated much controversy, especially when they attempted to get an early release. Eventually, they had to serve a full sentence which was reasonable.
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Another youth crime that attracted much publicity in Canada was committed in 2009. In East York, Todorovic, a 15-year-old girl, succeeded in persuading her 17-year old boyfriend to kill a 14-year-old girl out of jealousy (Small). Her boyfriend attacked the victim at her house, stabbing her seven times to death. Ontario Superior Justice Ian Nordheimer asked the jury to stay impartial and unbiased since the case was discussed many times in mass media and caused much outrage in society.
Jurors were divided over the sentence: as a youth, Todorovic would serve a term of six years and would be supervised by four, and as an adult, she would have to spend life in prison (Small). Todorovic received adult sentencing with the possibility of parole after serving seven years. Her supervisors in prison report that her mental health is stable and she is making progress in handling emotions.
Another case that once again opened up the dialogue about restorative youth justice was the murder of Constable Styles by a teenager pulled over for speeding. Instead of stopping the vehicle, the convict dragged Styles who was hanging from the door window along the road.
Reckless driving resulted in fatal injuries for Styles whereas the convict was left paralyzed from the chest down. As opposed to the perpetrators in the first two cases, the teenager did not get a prison sentence but nine years of conditional supervision (Indictment No. YC-11-00000714-0000). The family of the victim felt that the court’s decision was a major letdown whereas the jury reasoned that the murderer was already serving a life sentence as a quadriplegic. In each of the three cases, a minor committed first-degree murder; however, the sentences were vastly different once again calling for a further conversation about justice and reformation.
Is the YCJA Effective? An Overview
It has been almost 16 years since the Youth Criminal Justice Act was passed. Many amendments were made to enhance the system efficiency, and now, it is reasonable to assess the results of the enactment. First, according to statistics, a smaller share of underage offenders are charged: if in 1999, 67% of youth would be charged, in 2010, the percentage amounted only to 43% (“The Youth Criminal Justice Act”). Instead of charging, young individuals were getting a warning, caution, or a precharge sanction or were referred to community programs. Moreover, the number of court cases decreased by 26% between 2002 and 2010 (“The Youth Criminal Justice Act”). Experts documented a rise in the use of informal measures as an alternative to charging.
Underage individuals are indeed capable of such heinous crimes as rape and murder. As such cases generate much resonance in society, the initial reaction might be to make offenders take full responsibility. The proponents of so-called restorative justice reason that the criminal justice system should operate on the premise that a juvenile action does not equate to that of an adult. The Canadian government set reformation for youth as an objective when the Youth Offenders Act was replaced by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The enactment of the latter act led to less charging and fewer court cases. However, as practice showed, some cases of presumptive crimes resulted in youth sentencing whereas the contents of some amounted to adult sentencing.
Batchelor, Dahn. “The Bathtub Girls Murder.” dahn batchelor’s opinions. 2008. Web.
“The Youth Criminal Justice Act Summary and Background.” Government of Canada, 2017. Web.
Small, Peter. “Teen Jealousy Led to Girl’s Slaying, Murder Trial Told.” The Star. 2009. Web.
Small, Peter. “Stefanie Rengel Killer’s Sentencing Hearing May 13 and 14.” The Star, 2009.
Statistics Canada. “Adult and Youth Correctional Statistics in Canada, 2016/2017.” Statistics Canada, 2018. Web.