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The proceeding I observed was a continuation of a trial. It was on November 1st, the courthouse was Robert S.K. Welch Court House and the trial was for the case R. v R.C., which occurred in room number 5. The judge in charge of the trial was Justice Huge K. Atwood. The trial was about a youth who was charged with assault for punching and throwing street signs at his father because he was trying to protect his younger brother from his father who had a history of abusing them. The individual was 19 years old, but he was still being tried in youth court. The case went to trial because the youth tried pleading guilty since he thought his action was defensive instead of criminal, he only engaged in violence to protect his younger brother who was defenseless towards the father’s abuse. In the end, the youth was sentenced to an absolute discharge and the judge strongly recommended community service.

While analyzing the trial continuation, I was able to see many different ways in which the Youth Criminal Justice Act was incorporated into the trial such as certain laws, structures, and procedures being followed in court. I was able to notice how some of these factors influenced the judge’s decision regarding the sentence the youth was given. Next, I focused on section three of the YCJA and I was able to identify three principles that were involved in the proceeding, why they are important, and how they were used. The three principles that I identified were; diminished responsibility compared to adults, proportionality, and meaningful consequences.

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I was able to see the factors of fairness being used when the young person was being tried. For example, the young person was not simply looked upon as an offender, but as an individual with rights who had certain circumstances that impacted the decisions he made (Bell, 2015). As the textbook states, fairness is a big part of the YCJA. This was shown by making sure that the youth was being represented by a lawyer who was fairly representing him, and that the youth was aware that he was being charged with assault for attacking his father, based on video evidence of the event (Bell, 2015). When I relate the trial to the YCJA more specifically, I was able to see elements from the preamble being used. For example, the preamble talks about the youth as someone who is the responsibility of the community and needs guidance in becoming a fully function adult in society (Bell, 2015). I saw this while the was judge sentencing the youth and talking about his father. The judge talked about how putting the youth in custody would not be in the best interest of the youth or community, as going to jail can reinforce criminal behaviors, and since his father was the one who dragged him into committing the offense, the community should step in and help guide him to make better decisions (Bell, 2015). The judge believed that the purpose of the sentence should be to deter him from the court system and influence him to act differently in the future to avoid getting involved again. I noticed how this was one of the cases where the police or judge did not think extrajudicial measures or sanctions were not appropriate because it was a violent crime (Bell, 2015), which the textbook describes as a crime where bodily harm is caused, and in the youth’s case, he did harm his father by attacking him.

This trial allowed me to see the structure of the YCJA. The textbook talks about how when a youth is charged with a violent offense, they are sent to court. According to the seriousness of the case, the youth can be detained for crimes (Marinos, 2019), and in this case, he, was not held, as I did see the accused waiting outside with everyone, which exemplified how resources are kept for more seriously. In court, there was video evidence being used to prove the youth guilty of the offense, but factors surrounding his life were also heavily taken into consideration, such as that he grew up in a home with domestic violence, his father had a history of abusing him and his brother, the young person had a job since she was 10, he was a good student, had no previous encounter with the legal system and was able to maintain good relationships with his peers, significant other and family (as aside from his father). The judge also noted how the young person only got involved to protect his younger brother, his father was the one dragging him into getting involved, and that no members of the public were harmed or put in danger. This showed how the judge looked at factors such as the degree of participation, the mitigating circumstances in his life, and his previous involvement (Bell, 2015). After considering everything, the judge gave his opinion and consulted the other professionals in the room about an appropriate punishment. In the end, the judge looked into the best interest of the youth because no members of the public were harmed, and he was given an absolute discharge which would help him reintegrate into society and have minimal impact on his future. This was also an example of how responses to each case are tailored to the individual (Bell, 2015).

The first principle that I saw during the proceeding was the diminished responsibility of the youth compared to adults who have committed the same crime. This principle is important to the YJCA because it refers to when youth are being sentenced and held accountable for the actions they committed, it needs to be consistent with their level of maturity, and development (Bell, 2015). Youths should be given less severe punishments for the offense compared to adults because the youth is still developing crimes (Marinos, 2019). Because they are still developing, their expected responses to situations are different than adults, they are more impulsive, more likely to act on emotions instead of thinking things through, they may not fully understand the consequences of their actions and may focus on the immediate gratification instead of thinking about how their life will be impacted in the future (Bell, 2015). This would make it unreasonable to give them the same consequences compared to adults who have learned to control their emotions and impulses and can think long-term. The YCJA focuses on keeping adults and youth separate in terms of their responsibility and takes into consideration what a big factor age plays in why the youth may offend (Bell, 2015). However, it’s still important that the youth is held responsible for their actions, but they should be punished in a way that is more appropriate to them. This relates to the trial that I witnessed because when the judge was talking about the youth’s sentence, he brought up that he would be punished less severely than his father, even though they were both charged with assaulting each other. The judge talked about how because the father was a fully grown adult, he could think about his actions and act more responsibly than assaulting a youth. The father should have stepped up in his role as the father of the two boys to help keep them away from the justice system instead of getting them involved. The judge strongly believed that the only reason why the youth was in court was because of his father. The judge did talk about how the youth should have thought more about his actions and how they could have impacted him negatively. But the judge was also aware that the youth got aggravated after seeing his younger brother being assaulted by his father, so he impulsively acted on his anger and attacked his father. However, even after considering age, the judge did emphasize that his actions were not okay and that assaulting someone in a fit of anger would never be okay. In the end, the judge did state that the youth was given an absolute discharge whereas his father was given 2 years on parole and a community service sentence.

The second principle I witnessed during the trial was proportionality. According to the YCJA, the way that the system responds to the youth must be proportional to the crime committed while respecting the circumstances around the youth’s life (Bell, 2015). The consequences need to be equivalent to the crime, after looking at all the factors that motivated the youth to offend. The consequence mustn’t be too lenient, harsh, or too disruptive of the youth’s life, as this can cause the consequence to become ineffective in helping prevent the youth offend in the future (Bell, 2015). This principle is important to the YCJA because it helps eliminate the factor of youth being treated too harshly and getting intensive sentences as they were under the YOA crimes (Marinos, 2019). Adding this principle was one of the modifications made to the YCJA because of the high number of youth incarcerations (Bell, 2015). It ensures that youth aren’t being treated worse or sentenced longer than adults, and the length of their sentence needs to be proportionate to the crime they commit. This helps maintain the balance between the offense and what punishment the youth faces for it. A proportionate response is more likely to help deter youth from re-entering the criminal system and result in better long-term public protection. This principle relates to the proceeding because it reflects how the youth got a proportionate sentence for the crime he committed. The youth got an absolute discharge because he didn’t harm any members of the public and he only acted violently to protect his brother. The youth didn’t start the violence but only became a part of it because he thought it was necessary, and because of his emotions he got carried away and started throwing street signs at his father. The court did a very good job considering all these factors while sentencing the youth. He wasn’t unproportionally blamed and the reason for his involvement and the factors that motivated him to assault his father were understood.

The final principle I saw during the trial was meaningful consequence. The YCJA refers to the principle of meaningful consequences as giving youth consequences that make them accountable for their actions while helping them understand why they were wrong, so they don’t do it again (Bell, 2015). It gives the youth a chance to understand what they did, what their actions meant, and how they impacted someone else negatively, as most youth who commit petty crimes often just think about the immediate rewards, they get from the crime, rather than how they are impacting someone else negatively. When consequences are meaningful it teaches the youth why it’s wrong to act that way, instead of just knowing they shouldn’t be doing that. When there is an understanding of why something is wrong, the youth is more likely to avoid acting that way in future crimes (Marinos, 2019). This principle reflects the restorative model of justice as it addresses the harm a youth commits with their actions, while holding them accountable but also teaches them ways why they shouldn’t act that way in the future and how they can make amends to those affected (Bell, 2015). This relates to the trial because it shows me how the consequences the youth faced held him accountable, made him understand why his actions were inappropriate and motivated him to stay away from the justice system. The youth only assaulted his father because he was defending his brother; he was protecting his family. The judge stated the only reason why wasn’t being sentenced to community service was because no members of the public were harmed. He was held accountable for his actions and punished by going through the justice system and having a temporary record. This meant that he wasn’t punished for protecting his brother, but only for attacking his father. The procedure allowed him to think about the consequences his actions could have had. It was made clear that acting violently wasn’t okay, but protecting his brother was and he needs to focus on removing someone from the situation instead of attacking. The judge strongly recommended community service for community reparation for causing potential harm. The sentence the youth got helped him understand that acting violently isn’t okay and his record will help him stay away from the justice system.

References

    1. Bell, S. J. (2015). Young offenders and youth justice: A century after the fact. (Bell, 2015)
    2. Marinos, personal communication, September 18th, 2019
    3. Marinos, personal communication, September 25th, 2019
    4. Marinos, personal communication, October 2nd, 2019
    5. Bell, Sandra J. 2015. Youth Offenders and Youth Justice: A Century After The Fact. 5th edition. Toronto: Nelson Educational.

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