If I am Charged

If I am Charged – click here to print

What happens if the police believe I have broken the law?

If you are under 17 and the police believe you have broken the law then they can take you to court for your matter to be dealt with.

If you admit that you broke the law then instead of taking you to court then the police can decide to:

  • caution you: If you have not been in much trouble before or have not committed a serious offence, the police can give you a warning about your behaviour. They will give you a ‘notice of caution.’ The police will keep a record of the fact that you have been cautioned
  • let you attend a Youth Justice Conference: If the police believe a caution is not suitable the police can send you to a Youth Justice Conference. (See the following section ‘What is a Youth Justice Conference?’ and also the sheet entitled ‘Court Orders’ for more details)
  • offer you a Drug Diversion Assessment Program: If the police believe a caution is not suitable, and the drug involved is 50g or less of cannabis (marijuana) or you are in possession of a thing used for smoking cannabis, then the police may offer you the opportunity of going to the Drug Diversion Assessment Program. (See the following section ‘What is a Drug Diversion Assessment Program?’ and the sheet entitled ‘Court Orders’ for more details).
  • offer you a Graffiti Removal Program: If you are at least 12 and you have committed a graffiti offence then they may offer you an opportunity to do a Graffiti Removal Program instead of taking you to court. (See the following section ‘What is a Graffiti Removal Program?’ and the sheet entitled ‘Court Orders’ for more details).

BUT: police can still take you to court even if you do admit the offence. You should get legal advice (and the police should allow you to do this) before admitting to breaking the law.

What if the police decide to take me to court?

The police will consider the following in deciding whether to summons you to appear in court; give you a notice to appear in court or arrest and charge you:

  • whether you admitted you broke the law
  • how much trouble you have been in, in the past
  • how serious the matter is.

If the police: 

  • summons you: you are allowed to leave the police station but at a later time the police will bring some papers (the summons) around to you. These papers will tell you where and when you have to go to court
  • give you a notice to appear: they give you a form (notice to appear) ‘on the spot’ and will tell you when and where you have to go to court
  • arrest and charge you: this is the most serious option because you are not free to leave, and if you are not already at the police station, you will be taken there. The police will usually fingerprint and photograph you and decide whether to let you go until your court date (give you bail).  You should ask the police to give you a notice to appear if you think they are going to arrest and charge you.

What about bail?

If you are arrested and charged and the police do not want to give you bail (they do not want to let you go until you go to court) you can ask to make a phone call to someone who may be able to help you.

If you are unsure who to call, you can phone one of the agencies under ‘Who can help?’ Only the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

If bail is refused and you are under 17 you should be placed in a youth detention centre.  When you get to court, you can ask the court to give you bail until your case is resolved.  If you are in a detention centre you can ask to see the duty lawyer when they next visit.

What if I am put in a watch house?

If you are under 17, the police should make sure you are:

  • separated from adults (unless the police think it is better for you that you be with an adult)
  • safe at all times
  • not kept in a watch house longer than is necessary (if you cannot be taken to court, you must be taken to a youth detention centre).

If it is impossible to get you to a youth detention centre the next day, you should not be in a watch house longer than is necessary and you should have someone visit you every day.  You should tell the police who you would like to visit you.

Fingerprints, palm prints and photographs?

The police can take your fingerprints, palm prints, footprints and voiceprints (‘identifying particulars’), and photograph you and any tattoos, old and new injuries and other things on your body that may be used to identify you if you are arrested and charged.  They can also take your photograph at the place where you are arrested.

If you are given a summons or notice to appear and the police want to take your prints, they will have to get a Court Order.  You can argue that you should not have to give the prints and you should get a solicitor to help you.  If the court orders you to give your prints and you do not do so, you can be fined and the police can arrest you.

If you give your prints under a Court Order you must have one of the people listed under ‘Who can I have with me during a police questioning?’ with you.

Can the police keep my prints & photographs?

If you were arrested and charged your prints and photographs must be destroyed if:

  • the police decide later not to take your case to court
  • the court decides you did not break the law.

If the court ordered you to give your prints, they must be destroyed if:

  • the court decides you did not break the law
  • the court decides you did break the law but orders a Youth Justice Conference, or Drug Diversion Assessment Program and does not sentence you.

Should I get legal advice?

If the police want to arrange for you and your parent to come down to the police station to be questioned then you should get legal advice before you attend an interview.  It is useful to have a solicitor with you during the police questioning.

If you have to go to court you should get legal advice in order to understand whether you have broken the law and what your choices are in answering questions or going to court and advice on what might be best to do in your situation. If you are in a youth detention centre, you can ask to see the duty lawyer the next time they visit.

If you have not been able to see a solicitor before going to court, it is important that you see the court duty lawyer to get some advice about your case.  If you are not sure, you can ask the security people who the duty lawyer is.

What is a Youth Justice Conference?

If you are under 17, a Youth Justice Conference may be an option if:

  • you agree you broke the law and the police refer you to a conference instead of taking you to court
  • the court orders a conference instead of sentencing you or before sentencing you.

At a Youth Justice Conference, you will have the opportunity to discuss the consequences of committing the offence with the people you affected, such as the victim.

You have the right to have a solicitor, an adult member of your family or another adult of your choice with you (for example, a youth worker).  The victim or their solicitor, and a member of their family, does not have to attend. A convenor who runs the conference will also be there.

The aim of the conference is to reach an agreement on how you will make amends such as:

  • agreeing to pay the victim some money
  • apologising
  • attending a program similar to a Probation or Community Service Order.

If the conference is about a graffiti offence then the conference agreement must include a Graffiti Removal Program, unless the victim of the offence requests something else such as an apology, payment of compensation or voluntary work. The number of hours of graffiti removal work under an agreement cannot be more than what a court can order (see the sheet entitled ‘Court Orders’).

There are consequences if you do not turn up to a conference, or if an agreement cannot be reached during the conference, or after the conference you do not do what you agreed.  You should get legal advice about what a conference will mean for you.

What is a Drug Diversion Assessment Program?

The Drug Diversion Assessment Program is one session with a drug counsellor that lasts around 2 hours.

In order to be sent to a police referred Drug Diversion Assessment Program you must agree to be sent there.  You can only be sent to a Drug Diversion Assessment Program if the offence you are charged with is possession of 50g or less of cannabis (marijuana) or possession of a thing used to smoke cannabis (a bong).  This must be the only offence you are charged with.  You will usually get only one opportunity to attend a Drug Diversion Assessment Program.

What is a Graffiti Removal Program?

The graffiti removal program will be for a two hour period – 1 hour will be an education session and the other hour will be work such as cleaning graffiti. In order to be sent to a Graffiti Removal Program you must admit in a formal police interview that you have done the graffiti and agree in writing to be sent to the Program.  Once you sign the agreement anything which you used to do the graffiti can be taken by the police. The organisation which runs the program will let the police and Youth Justice Services know if you do not complete the Program and the police may then take further action, e.g. bring you to a court for the graffiti offence and/or charge you with failing to comply with a police direction.

Who knows about cautions, Youth Justice Conference Agreements and Drug Diversion Assessment Programs or Graffiti Removal Programs?

The police generally must not tell anyone about these, but they can tell your parents, a victim and inter-state police if you have inter-state matters.

However, if you appear in court for breaking the law as a child or an adult, sometimes the court can be told about these when deciding bail.

What about security officers?

Security officers are not police officers and do not have the same powers.  For example, they can arrest you for breaking the law (as can anyone), but they will need to be very sure you have committed an offence or you can take them to court for false arrest and assault.  If they do arrest you, they must hand you over to the police as soon as possible.  They cannot search you, take your prints or do other things the police have the power to do.

Security can order you to leave private property (which includes shopping centres) and use reasonable force to make you leave if you do not go when you are asked.  At Southbank in Brisbane, security officers have special powers to ban people from the park.

By law, a person cannot work as a security officer or bouncer if they ‘show dishonesty or a lack of integrity, use harassing tactics or have been convicted of a criminal offence’.

Treated unfairly?

By police: The police should treat you fairly and politely.  If they do not, you have the right to complain about it without the threat of being harassed.

It is a good idea to write down exactly what happened including time and date and the names of any witnesses and the police involved.  If you were hurt, try to get to a hospital or to a doctor as soon as possible and take colour photographs of the injuries.

You can complain to the Commissioner of Police (07 33646464) who must investigate, or the Crime and Misconduct Commission (07 33606060) which is not part of the police service.

By security officers: if you have been treated unfairly by a security officer or a bouncer you should make a complaint as soon as you can to the manager of the place you are in (such as a nightclub or the centre manager of the shopping centre).  If you are at Southbank go to the corporation’s management office (near ‘Southbank Streets Beach’ on site) and complain to the manager.

Remember to stay cool and calm and do as you are directed and then phone the manager.  As soon as you can you should write down everything you remember about:

  • what happened
  • the time and date
  • the name of any witnesses
  • any details about the security guards involved (names and a description).

If you were hurt try to get to a hospital or doctor as soon as possible and take colour photographs of your injuries.

You should also make your complaint to the police and The Office of Fair Trading (OFT). OFT must investigate the complaint and the security officer/bouncer could lose their job if OFT is satisfied they acted in an inappropriate manner under the law.  This could include being found guilty of a criminal offence (such as assaulting you).

If you want help or advice to make a complaint against police or security officers/bouncers, contact one of the agencies below.

Who can help?

Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC) www.yac.net.au ………… 3356 1002

South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre www.communitylegal.org.au………. 3372 7677

Logan Youth & Family Legal Service www.yfs.org.au……….. 3826 1500

Legal Aid Queensland www.legalaid.qld.gov.au……….. 1300 651 188

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service www.atsils.org.au……….. 3025 3888 or 1800 012 255 (Free call) (24hrs 7 days a week) 

Translating & Interpreting Services (24hrs)……….. 131 450

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) see www.naclc.org.au for your nearest CLC

This information was last reviewed and updated in January 2017.  The Youth Advocacy Centre does not accept responsibility for any action or outcome as a result of anyone relying on the information provided.