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Consequence of breaking the law

If you are arrested certain things apply and the police must comply with Police General Orders and departmental rules when they interview you. In most cases:

  • You will be told what the charge is;
  • You will be allowed to make a phone call;
  • Your parents or guardian or a responsible, independent person will be contacted to be present at the interview
  • You will be provided with an interpreter, if required.

An interrogation can proceed if the offence is not serious and it is not practicable to contact a relative or friend. You do not have to answer questions unless you wish.

Note: The right to a phone call or for a friend to be present, might be denied in some circumstances, e.g. if your friend is involved in the alleged offence.

The police have the power to search you, take your photograph and your fingerprints. In certain circumstances they can arrange for body samples to be taken from you. Police can take anything found on you and may use such force as is reasonably necessary for those purposes. In certain circumstances the police can have you examined by a doctor but you have the right to have a doctor of your own choice also examine you.

[Police General Orders 1320 18:1, 18:6, 20:1, 20:3, 3065, 8:1, 9:5]

[Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) ss 79A , 81]

See: Arrest, Your Rights, and Bail

Can I be charged with an offence at any age?

No. The minimum age is 10. Children under 10 cannot be charged with or convicted of an offence because the law does not treat you as criminally responsible [Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 5].

This does not mean you can do as you like. If you are under 10 years of age the Department for Child Protection can take you into its care if your parents cannot control or look after you [Children's Protection Act 1993 (SA) s6(2)].

For children between the ages of 10 and 18 there is a special criminal justice system. However, it is not automatic that you go to the Youth Court. What happens depends on your age, the seriousness of the offence, whether you admit guilt, and if you have been in trouble before.

What is likely to happen to me if I break the law?

One of three things can happen to you:

  1. Police Caution
  2. Family Group Conference
  3. Court
What is a Police Caution?

You might be warned by the Police and told not to do it again; this is called an informal caution. This may be an option if you have not done anything serious. No official record is kept [Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 6].

If the offence is more serious and you admit you have committed the offence, the Police may give you a formal caution and may also require you to make an undertaking (promise) to:

  • Pay compensation to the victim of the offence
  • Carry out community service (not more than 75 hours)
  • Apologise to the victim
  • Do anything else that is appropriate in the circumstances

[Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 8]

If you break the undertaking or do not do as the police officer says a Family Group Conference can be held [Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) s 7(1)(b)].

What is a Family Group Conference?

When a Police Officer notifies a Youth Justice Coordinator about an offence a Family Conference is held to make a decision about what will happen to you. Your parents or guardians, close relatives, the victim of the offence and his/her parents (if under 18), a Police Officer and yourself will be present. You are entitled to legal advice at the conference.

The Family Group Conference has a number of powers. It can:

  • Warn you about further offending
  • Require you to enter into an undertaking to pay compensation to the victim
  • Require you to enter into an undertaking to carry out a specific period of community services (not exceeding 300 hours)
  • Require you to enter into an undertaking to apologise to the victim, or
  • Anything else that is appropriate.

If you do not attend the Family Conference, do not comply with the requirements of the Conference or the undertaking, the Police Officer may lay a charge before the Youth Court and the judge or magistrate will decide what to do. You do not have to tell anyone, e.g. an employer, that you have been to a Family Group Conference.

The victim is the only person who has the right to be advised of the outcome of a conference.

[Young Offenders Act 1993 (SA) ss 10, 11, 12 & 58]

Can I be charged with an offence at any age?  :  Last Revised: Thu Aug 17th 2017
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.