Pre-Trial Detention Under the Young Offenders Act: A Study of Urban Courts
Police have several decisions to make when they apprehend a youth: whether to release the young person or to hold him or her; if released, in what form; and if detained, what information and recommendations should be provided the Crown with regard to continued detention. Even though police function as the gatekeepers to pre-trial detention, little is known about the police decisions made during the process.
The criteria for police detention are similar to those for detention by the youth court: the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person will not appear at court; detention is in the public interest because of the need to identify the accused, the need to secure or preserve evidence, or the need to prevent another offence. Under circumstances specified in the Criminal Code, the police may hold the accused person until he or she appears before a justice for a bail hearing. In the sample as a whole, police detained 45 percent of young persons (Table 2.1). Almost eight out of ten Vancouver youth were detained for a bail hearing compared to about three out of ten youth in Halifax-Dartmouth. The other courts fell between these two extremes.
The mode of release varied from court to court. In Halifax-Dartmouth, youth tended to receive either an appearance notice or a summons. In Toronto and Scarborough, police undertakings, followed by promises to appear, were most common. There was almost an equal division in Winnipeg among appearance notices, summons, promises to appear and undertakings. The primary mode of release in Edmonton was an appearance notice. In Surrey, promises to appear were most frequent, followed by summons and undertakings. In Vancouver, because the municipal police preferred to pass the release decision along to the youth court, only a few youth received appearance notices or summonses.
The officer in charge, usually the station or custody sergeant, may release accused persons with an undertaking to appear with or without conditions. All or almost all youth released on undertakings to appear had conditions imposed. As Table 2.2 shows, released youth were most often ordered not to communicate with victims, witnesses or others such as co-accused (76 percent). Over one-half of the total sample were ordered to stay away from specified areas, such as malls, schools or the victim’s home. Firearm prohibitions were infrequent in all courts. Abstention from alcohol and drugs was also relatively rare except in Edmonton where almost three out of ten cases were so ordered. In Winnipeg, where curfew monitoring by police is available, 27 percent of released youth were ordered to maintain a curfew as an "any other condition", which is notably different from the other courts. Not shown in table form because of their relatively low frequency were two additional "other conditions" - attend school and reside in a specified location. See Table 2.6 for the conditions of court release.
In summary, 45 percent of the total sample were detained by police at their initial arrest, and there were substantial variations by youth court. Young persons released on a police undertaking were obliged to meet conditions such as no contact with specified persons and geographical restrictions.
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