When a person is under 21 years of age at the time they allegedly commit a criminal offense, Alabama law allows them to be treated by the Court as a “Youthful Offender.” What is Youthful Offender (YO) status and what does it mean for me if I qualify?
When a person is granted YO by a judge, this designation has several benefits, some of them substantial.
First and foremost, if the charged offense is a felony, YO drastically reduces the range of punishment in the case to a maximum sentence of three years. Depending on the level of felony offense involved, this can be an important benefit. Even for a class “C” felony, a YO designation would reduce the maximum time of incarceration from 10 years to 3 years.
Equally importantly, the granting of YO has the effect of sealing the record of the case. Any record of the charge, arrest, and court proceedings are made off limits and are not accessible to anyone not involved in the case. This can be important as a young person embarks on their life and applies for jobs or educational opportunities.
Once a person has been granted YO status, even if they are found guilty of the charged offense, it will not show up on their record as a conviction. Instead, the court will treat it as an adjudication, and none of the usual effects of a conviction will apply. A person adjudicated as a Youthful Offender will not be deprived of their civil rights such as the right to vote or the right to carry a firearm.
The trade-off is that in order to be treated as a Youthful Offender, a person must forefeet their right to a trial by jury, and any trial would be before a judge only in a proceeding that is closed to the public.