Criminal Law

Weapons case highlights issues around young offenders

When a youth is charged with a crime, it is often a sign society has failed them and that they may be in an abusive situation, Toronto criminal lawyer Joseph Neuberger tells Talk Radio AM 640.

Something is terribly wrong when a child becomes involved in criminal activity and often means they have been abandoned and are “incredibly vulnerable,” he tells the radio show.

Neuberger, partner with Neuberger & Partners LLP, weighs in on the issue after nine people, including six teens and a 12-year-old girl, were charged in connection with a police raid that turned up a cache of automatic weapons and ammunition in a Toronto home.

He explains the youths are all facing criminal charges likely because they were in the residence when officers executed the search warrant.

Neuberger says when police find a stash of weapons in a home, everyone who is found in the premises will often be charged. He says police will consider whether it is reasonable that all of the people in the residence would have known about the weapons.

“It depends on where the cache of weapons is found and where everybody is,” he says.

Unless the firearms are hidden, it implies there is knowledge of their existence on the part of the people who lived in the home and so a possession charge is appropriate, Neuberger says.

“Weapons offences are very serious but it all depends on the knowledge these individuals had, who was in control of the house,” he says. “Maybe a 12-year-old is a victim by just being there.”

Neuberger notes that a 12-year-old isn’t of an age where they can just leave the home and live somewhere else.

“This is her family,” he says. “A lot more facts will have to come out to see who is really in possession of these weapons for a criminal purpose,” he says.

Neuberger says police haven’t named the 39-year-old individual who has been charged in an effort to protect to identity of the youths in the matter.

“It’s important to protect the young persons' identity because as soon as they are in the media and on the Internet, (the information) is very hard to get rid of and that can have lasting implications,” he says.

Neuberger explains that the Youth Criminal Justice Act covers individuals aged 12 to 17 — there is no criminal culpability for children younger than 12.

“They are not at the cognitive age that you would charge them with a criminal act,” he says.

Neuberger says scientific evidence shows the brains of young people aren’t cognitively developed enough to form the mental elements necessary for a criminal charge. As a result, it’s important to rehabilitate those who become involved in the criminal justice system at such a young age, he says.

“At 12 years old, we have an opportunity to intervene and save this child — that’s where we really need to focus, in my opinion,” he says.

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