The Impact of Youthful Offender Status in Alabama
The Alabama Youthful Offender Act allows criminal courts in Alabama to grant youthful offender status to defendants whose crimes or offenses occurred before they turned 21 years of age.
THE PROCESS FOR GETTING YOUTHFUL OFFENDER STATUS
A defendant must request youthful offender status, and the courts in Alabama have an obligation to inform eligible defendants of the right to request the status. Once the request is made, the court will typically request an investigation by a probation officer into the background of the defendant and the facts and circumstances with which they are charged. The trial court has a great deal of discretion in the decision to grant or deny youthful offender status. In our experience, courts consider a wide variety of factors in making the decision, some appropriate and some not so appropriate. Nevertheless, it is important to present information to the court as to factors. Some common factors considered include: prior contact with criminal justice system, age, maturity, family relationships, role in the offense, seriousness of the offense, school attendance and history, potential for rehabilitation, and community ties. The court will hold a hearing at which your attorney may present information and evidence on your behalf.
POTENTIAL PUNISHMENT UNDER YOUTHFUL OFFENDER STATUS
Alabama Code § 15-19-6 provides that if the underlying offense was a felony offense, a person given youthful offender status faces the following potential punishment:
- Incarceration in the custody of the Board of Corrections for up to 3 years
- Probation for up to 3 years
- Suspension of the sentence with probation
- Suspension of the sentence without probation
- Fines, with or without probation (typically up to $1,000)
Where a youthful offender is placed on probation, they are placed under the supervision of the appropriate probation agency.
Alabama Code § 15-19-6 provides that if the underlying offense was a misdemeanor offense, a person given youthful offender status can be punished as provided by law for such misdemeanor.
THE EFFECT OF YOUTHFUL OFFENDER STATUS
By establishing the Alabama Youthful Offender Act, the Legislature not only provided an alternative method of sentencing minors, but, in fact, created a procedure separate and apart from the criminal procedure dealing with adults accused of the same offense. Ex parte Jackson, 415 So.2d 1169 (Ala.1982). Youthful Offender Act proceedings are not “criminal” in nature. Raines v. State, 294 Ala. 360, 365, 317 So. 2d 559, 562 (1975). Therefore, an adjudication and grant of youthful offender status is not a “conviction” as that term is used in relation to Alabama criminal law. The Alabama Supreme Court describes the workings of the Youthful Offender Act as follows:
The Youthful Offender Act is intended to extricate persons below twenty-one years of age from the harshness of criminal prosecution and conviction. It is designed to provide them with the benefits of an informal, confidential, rehabilitative system. A determination that one is a youthful offender (1) does not disqualify the youth from public office or public employment, (2) does not operate as a forfeiture of any right or privilege, (3) does not make him ineligible to receive any license granted by public authority, and (4) shall not be deemed a conviction of crime; and (5) the record shall not be open to public inspection except upon permission of the court. Title 15, s 266(6), Code of Alabama. Raines v. State, 294 Ala. 360, 363, 317 So. 2d 559, 561 (1975).
When a court grants youthful offender status, the adjudication essentially ended the adult criminal prosecution. The Youthful Offender Act states in Ala. Code § 15-19-1, where an application for youthful offender is granted, “no further action shall be taken on the indictment or information.” Ala. Code § 15-19-1.
YOUTHFUL OFFENDER RECORDS ARE SEALED FROM PUBLIC VIEW
Under Alabama Code § 15-19-7, fingerprints and photographs and other records of a person adjudged a youthful offender are not open to public inspection with two exceptions. First, a court may, in its discretion, permit the inspection of papers or records. Second, prosecutors have access to fingerprints, photographs, and other records of a person adjudged a youthful offender contained in the court file regardless of the jurisdiction from which the file originates.