In applying the principles of sentencing, judges consider the following factors to form a complete picture of the youth and the crime:
- Degree of participation in the offence
- Harm done to victims
- Reparations that have already been made to victims
- Pre-sentence custody
- Previous findings of guilt
- Aggravating and mitigating circumstances
Aggravating circumstances are those reasons why a punishment should be more severe, such as when a crime is carefully planned, compared to a crime happening suddenly. Mitigating circumstances may lessen the severity of the crime or the culpability of the youth. For example, was the youth provoked or did they feel threatened at the time? Have they made a sincere apology or repaired the harm done?
A judge requires information to make a decision. It is important that the judges knows:
- The circumstances surrounding the offence
- The presence or absence of a criminal record
- The life circumstances of the youth
- Attitude, history, and circumstances of the youth
- The impact of the crime on the victim
- The gravity of the crime
- The circumstances surrounding the crime
This information comes from a variety of sources including police reports, record checks, witnesses, court reports, psychological assessments and much more. A judge may also get information through youth conferences and witnesses as outlined below.
When a youth is found guilty, a judge may decide that a conference is needed under section 19 of the YCJA to help determine the sentence. Parents, teachers, youth workers, community service providers and others may be invited to the conference. In considering the best options for a sentence, the conference must be guided by the sentencing principles in the YCJA.
Conferences held for sentencing purposes may take the form of a healing circle which come from Indigenous tradition where crime is seen largely as a community problem to be shared by all. Healing circles are an example of a restorative justice practice.
Restorative justice = An approach that involves both offenders and victims to heal the harm caused by crime
Victims are another source of information for a judge to consider in making a sentencing decision. Victims have the right under section 3 of the YCJA to be informed about proceedings and be given an opportunity to participate and to be heard. Often this involvement includes providing a victim impact statement at the sentencing phase. A victim impact statement is made by the person who suffered harm due to the crime. If the victim is deceased, ill or incapable of making a statement, then a relative of that person may make the statement (see section 42 of the YCJA).