The concept of the Youthful Offender is so complex and the statutes so complicated that you will need the most basic questions answered by someone who has extensive experience in the area.
What is a Youthful Offender?
You can be charged as a youthful offender (also known as Y.O.) if you are age 13 through 17 and you are charged with certain felony crimes. For purposes of sex crimes, you can be charged as a youthful offender if you are 15, 16 or 17 years old and you are charged with rape in the first degree, attempted rape in the first degree, rape by instrumentation, attempted rape by instrumentation, forcible sodomy, lewd molestation or kidnapping. You can also be charged as a youthful offender if you are 16 or 17 years old and you are charged with rape in the second degree.
Is it good or bad to be charged as a Youthful Offender?
This is a complex question because it can be both good and bad. On the one hand, you would rather be prosecuted as a youthful offender than be prosecuted as an adult. On the other hand, you would rather be prosecuted as a juvenile than be prosecuted as a youthful offender. In other words, it could be better, but it could be worse. If the DA decides to charge you as a youthful offender our goal is to get the charge reduced to a juvenile charge. This is an area where we have extensive experience. Often times we have more experience in this area than the judge and the prosecutor handling your case. If the youthful offender charge does not get reduced to a juvenile charge, then our goal is to keep you going as a youthful offender. This is because often times when the DA originally charges you as a youthful offender, they later seek to get the charge upgraded to adult sentencing. As a 15, 16 or 17 year old you want to avoid adult sentencing. If the DA is able to get the judge to agree to adult sentencing after you were originally charged as a youthful offender, you could face serious prison time even though you were only 15, 16 or 17 years old when you are alleged to have committed a crime. Again, we have considerable experience in this area, often times more experience than the judge and the prosecutor handling your case.
Why is Youthful Offender even an option?
The lawmakers decided to give the DA and judges the option to charge and prosecute you as a youthful offender as a way to protect the public and hold you accountable for serious crimes while giving you an opportunity for rehabilitation at the same time. Once the DA decides to charge you as a youthful offender, it is our job to show the judge that you will be responsive to rehabilitation. It’s basically a second chance for 15, 16 and 17 year-olds charged with sex crimes who may not get a second chance if they were already 18 years old or older. If you are prosecuted as a youthful offender rather than as an adult, you would be under the supervision of the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) rather than the Department of Corrections (DOC). And your rehabilitation would be done through OJA. Even 17 year-olds should have the opportunity for rehabilitation.
What do I do if I am charged as a Youthful Offender?
If you are charged as a youthful offender or if you think there is a possibility you could be charged as a youthful offender, contact us immediately. Time is not on your side. We need to prepare early by meeting in person and often times we need to get records such as school records, medical records or even mental health records. The sooner we can begin this process the better. While the judge is not allowed to make you proceed as a youthful offender or as an adult based on your age alone, as days and weeks pass by you are getting closer and closer to the cut-off age when the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) cannot legally supervise you or attempt rehabilitation. There are legal deadlines for filing motions to protect your rights. If you delay hiring an attorney or you hire an attorney who is not experienced in youthful offender crimes, you risk missing those critical deadlines and losing rights you cannot get back.
When can I get an attorney if I think I may be charged as a Youthful Offender?
If you are 15, 16 or 17 then you are not legally an adult. But even though you are a child in the eyes of the law, you can still get an attorney and tell the police or DHS that you want your attorney present prior to or during any questioning. And you should call us prior to any questioning. Even if you think talking to the police or DHS will help you, you should call us before saying anything to them. Even if they tell you they only want to get your side of the story, you should call us before talking to anyone. The police are not required to tell you that there is a possibility of your being prosecuted as an adult or as a youthful offender prior to talking to you. In fact, they are not required to tell you there is a possibility the DA could file charges on you as an adult or a youthful offender at all. Even if your parent or guardian waives your right to an attorney, you can still request that your attorney be present before or during any questioning by the police or DHS. That’s right, if your parent or guardian thinks it is in your best interest to waive your right to an attorney and cooperate with the police or DHS, you can still say you want and attorney and refuse to talk to the police or DHS. And you should. Call us and we can explain to your parent or guardian why this is in your best interest.
What kind of sentence am I looking at as a Youthful Offender?
If you are originally charged as a youthful offender and we get your charges reduced to juvenile, then you are looking at treatment only, usually out of custody. If you are originally charged as a youthful offender and continue to be prosecuted as a youthful offender, there are several options available. You can get treatment or rehabilitation from the Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA). The treatment can be in OJA’s custody or out of custody. And your sentence can be deferred or suspended. If you are originally charged as a youthful offender but the DA gets the judge to agree to sentence you as an adult, the full range of punishment for an adult charged with the same crime is available. This means you could face up to life in prison for most sex crimes. This is why you need an attorney experienced in handling youthful offender cases working for you.
How can my attorney continue to help me even after I am sentenced as a Youthful Offender?
If you are sentenced as a youthful offender, the Office of Juvenile Affairs will prepare a plan of rehabilitation called a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual goals and meant to protect the public. The judge who sentenced you will have hearings at least once a year to review the plan and your progress. If we can show that you have reasonably completed your rehabilitation or treatment plan and that it would not threaten public safety, we can seek to have the judge order your guilty plea expunged and have the charges dismissed. After a period of time, if you have stayed out of trouble we can seek to have all records of your arrest expunged as well. These procedures can help you in getting a job or occupational license that may otherwise have been difficult with the arrest or conviction on your record.
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