Young People and the Police (SA)

In South Australia, a young person who is aged over 10 can be charged with a criminal offence. When a young person is suspected of an offence, they can be arrested, searched, interviewed and detained by the police. Legislation such as the Young Offenders Act 1993 and the Summary Offences Act 1953 governs the powers and responsibilities of police when dealing with young people. This page deals with young people and the police in South Australia.

Arresting young people

Under section 75 of the Summary Offences Act 1953, police may arrest person if they find the person committing an offence or if they have reasonable cause to suspect them of committing an offence.

A person aged over 10 can be arrested in South Australia.

When a young person is arrested, the police must:

  • Inform them of the nature of the allegations;
  • Inform them of their right to seek legal representation;
  • Take reasonable steps to inform a parent, guardian or person close to the youth of their arrest and invite them to be present while the youth is interviewed.

Under section 79A of the Summary Offences Act 1953, when a person is arrested in South Australia, they have the right to:

  • Make a phone call
  • Have a lawyer, friend or relative present while they are interviewed;
  • Have an interpreter assist while they are interviewed, if English is not their native language;
  • Refrain from answering any questions.

Police interviews of young people

When a young person under 18 is arrested for an offence punishable by a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or more, police must not interview them without an adult present.

All persons suspected of offences have the right to refuse to answer questions by the police. This is also known as the right to silence, or the privilege against self-incrimination. A young person cannot get into any trouble for refusing to participate in an interview with the police.

However, you have to provide the police with your name, address, and date of birth if:

  • The police suspect that you have violated or are violating the law.
  • The police believe that you can assist them in investigating a crime.
  • You are in possession of a firearm.
  • You are or were recently operating a motor vehicle.
  • You are in a location that serves alcoholic beverages.
  • Providing the police with false personal information is illegal.

Police searches of young people

If the police have a search warrant, they are authorized to conduct a search. If there is no warrant, they may still search you if:

  • You consent to the search
  • They have a reasonable suspicion that you are carrying a weapon or dangerous item, or that you have evidence of a crime on your person.
  • They suspect that you have something in your possession that has been stolen or is otherwise prohibited.

If you have been arrested, the police or a medical practitioner may conduct a strip search. If you refuse to comply with a strip search they are allowed to use reasonable force to carry out the search. You have the right to have a lawyer, adult family member, or friend present during these searches, unless this is not feasible.

Police cautions

Under section 8 of the Young Offenders Act 1993 , the South Australian Police may deal

with a young offender by giving them a formal caution.

When this occurs, the police may:

  • Require the youth to enter into an undertaking to pay compensation;
  • Require the youth to enter into an undertaking to carry out community service (up to 75 hours);
  • Require the youth to enter into an undertaking to apologise to a person;

A caution should be given in front of a parent or guardian where possible.

If a young person is subsequently charged with an offence, the fact they were given a formal caution can be used as evidence against them.

Criminal charges

If a young person is charged with a criminal offence in South Australia, the matter will be dealt with by the Youth Court. The young person may be granted bail or remanded in detention until the matter is finalised. If it is a minor charge, the young person may be summonsed to attend court.

A young person facing charges in the Youth Court will be required to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the young person pleads not guilty, the matter will proceed to a contested hearing, where the court will hear evidence and submissions from both parties and then decide whether the charge has been proven.

If a young person pleads guilty or has been found guilty, the court will sentence them. A range of penalties can be imposed by the Youth Court, including fines, good behaviour bonds, community work orders and terms of detention.

When a young person is sentenced, the paramount consideration of the court is their rehabilitation. Other considerations such as deterrence, community protection and denunciation will also be taken into account to varying extents, depending on the nature and circumstances of the offending.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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