Formal cautions

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A caution is a formal warning.  It is more serious than a warning.

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What crimes can I get a formal caution for?

What crimes can I get a formal caution for?

You can receive a caution for any of the crimes covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW) but not for graffiti offences.

You may be given formal caution if:

  • you admit to the offence in the presence of an adult (such as your parent or a lawyer);
  • you agree to receiving a caution (as opposed to going to court); and
  • you can’t be given a warning because of the type of offence or because a caution is not considered to be in the interests of justice.

You can still receive a caution even if you have received warnings before or if you have committed an offence before.  However, there is a limit of three cautions – if you have already received three cautions, you cannot receive another one and instead you may have to go to court.

How are cautions given?

Police don’t give formal cautions on-the-spot. They give a ‘notice of caution’ that says that a formal caution will be given on another day between 10 and 21 days after the notice has been issued.

This notice must contain information including:

  • the details of the alleged offence;
  • the details of when and where the caution will be given;
  • the persons who may be present when the caution is given;
  • the name of the police officer who is the contact officer for the caution;
  • the consequences of failing to attend the giving of the caution;
  • the right to legal advice and where that advice can be obtained; and
  • the right to have the matter dealt with in court rather than by a caution.  

The notice must also be in language that children can understand.

Before the formal caution is given, you can change your mind about being given a caution and choose to have the matter dealt with by a court. The officer in charge can also change their mind and refer the matter to a specialist youth officer who will consider whether a youth justice conference should happen instead.

After you get a notice of caution, if you agree to getting the caution instead of going to court, the formal caution will be given at a police station at the time and date written on the notice.

The caution is given by a senior police officer or, sometimes, a respected member of the community, such as an Aboriginal elder. The person giving the caution must take steps to make sure that the child understands the purpose, nature and effect of the caution and the caution may only be given if the child is accompanied by a parent, guardian or other responsible adult.

What happens after I receive a caution?

If you receive a caution, the police can’t take any further action against you in relation to that offence.  You receive a caution instead of having any other criminal penalty.  There cannot be any conditions or further penalties, but you can be asked to write an apology to the victim.

Will formal cautions show up on my criminal record?

If a caution is given to you, the police officer must record it. This will appear on your ‘court alternatives history’ and may be seen by the Children’s Court if it deals with you for further offences.

However, this record does not form a part of your criminal history – and it may not be taken into account by an adult court. So, if you break the law after you turn 18, an adult court is not allowed to look at this information.   

Also, if the police take any photographs or fingerprints from you for a caution, they have to destroy these.

Will I have to tell an employer that I got a caution?

You only have to tell a future employer about your caution if you are applying for certain jobs such as a teacher, police officer, a judge, a prison officer or to work with kids, and even then, you would only need to tell them about it if they ask you about cautions specifically or your criminal history in general.  A caution will also be taken into account if the crime you received a caution for is arson and you are seeking a job as a fire fighter.  

If you are under 25 and have a question about cautions, please contact us here.

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