The Florida Youthful Offender Statute was a special program created in 1978 to address the population of young Floridians who are too old for the juvenile justice system but whose young age and potential for rehabilitation warrant a special effort to provide needed support with appropriate penalties.
The Youthful Offender Statute includes a wide range of opportunities for young offenders but also permits harsh sentences to be imposed for those who violate the terms of the program. Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law can help you or your young family member navigate the Youthful Offender system to obtain the greatest benefit and avoid the most unfavorable outcomes.
Who Is Eligible for Florida’s Youthful Offender Statute?
The statute F.S. § 958.04 provides the court to sentence a defendant under the Youthful Offender program if they meet one of these criteria:
- defendant is at least 18 years old (or is a younger person transferred to the circuit court from the juvenile system),
- the Defendant is under 21 years of age at the time of their sentencing, and they have been found guilty after trial or has offered the court a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a crime considered a felony under Florida law,
- and the defendant has not been classified as a youthful offender in the past.
The statute also permits the Department of Corrections (D.O.C.) to declare the young person a “youthful offender” if the court fails or refuses to do so at sentencing. However, the D.O.C. uses different criteria. As you can see, the D.O.C. designated youthful offender has an older age cap and a priority to protect particularly young, vulnerable offenders whose safety is at risk in an open prison population:
- the inmate must be 24 years of age or younger and serving a sentence no greater than 10 years,
- or 19 years old or younger and sentenced to more than 10 years but is deemed to be vulnerable to harm if housed in an adult correctional institution.
Youthful Offender Act Limits Sentencing to Less than Standard Adult System
Florida created the Youthful Offender sentencing program to be more supportive of young people convicted of felonies by providing services like vocational, educational, counseling, or public service opportunities to offenders that would otherwise be integrated into the population of older, more hardened adult felons. But the Youthful Offender sentencing scheme still includes some harsh sentences in which the defendant will serve years in prison.
The benefit of the program is that defendants who are deemed youthful offenders by the court can be sentenced to lower sentences than the law would otherwise permit, even lower than some applicable mandatory minimum sentences.
The highest sentence a judge may impose upon a defendant declared to be a youthful offender is limited to one of the following:
- up to six years in the custody of the Department of Corrections (not exceeding the maximum sentence for the offense for which the defendant was convicted,
- a split sentence of incarceration followed by probation or a community control program; the incarceration must be at least one year but not more than four years and the combined incarceration and probation cannot exceed six years,
- up to 364 days incarceration in a county detention or community probation/restitution facility or another residential facility,
- up to six years’ probation or admission to a community control program (not exceeding the length of the maximum sentence for the offense with which the defendant was charged) (no finding of guilt is required).
Youthful Offender’s Obligations
Once a young person is sentenced as a youthful offender or is admitted to the Youthful Offender program by the D.O.C.’s designation, the offender is required to complete whatever counseling, educational, or work assignments they are assigned by the authorities overseeing their fulfillment of the sentence or status.
These requirements include:
- Fully cooperating with those social service or psychology professionals who will conduct an assessment of the young person to identify their individual needs, any substance dependency, mental health issues, or educational challenges,
- Regularly attend, participate in, and progress through educational programs to which they are assigned. The program may include remedial education or advancement to and completion of high school equivalence certification.
- For those engaged in job training, similar attendance, engagement, and progress are expected in the process of acquiring vocational skills, development of a trade, or other employable competence.
- Learn personal responsibility, emotional awareness, anger management, and other social and personality traits needed to cope with stressful situations successfully.
- Participate in preparations to reintegrate into the community with a connection to services.
Violations of Probation or Youthful Offender Act Requirements
While the Youthful Offender program offers several valuable opportunities to overcome problems that contributed to the offender’s unlawful conduct, like poor education, substance dependency, and mental health issues, the penalties for violating the program’s rules are powerful disincentives for misconduct.
Violations of probation or community control rules can range from minor infractions resulting in brief and limited sanctions up to and including being ordered to serve the maximum prison sentence allowed under the law, limited to six years.
Grounds for being violated range from committing a new felony to failing to attend a scheduled meeting with your probation officer. Here, as at all stages of the Youthful Offender Program’s interactions with the young person, an experienced criminal defense lawyer should be engaged and monitor any change in the status of the offender.
Tampa Youthful Offender Defense Lawyers
The work of an experienced criminal defense attorney is not limited to appearing in court and fighting for a client at trial. Professional criminal defense attorneys do the work because it’s in their blood. After all, they can’t stand the idea that someone is being denied their legal rights merely because they don’t have an informed and energized advocate.
The goal of the best criminal defense lawyer is to always achieve the best possible outcome for every client, no matter what the charged offense, no matter how strong the evidence against them. And part of that mission is to argue for every advantage on behalf of the client, to get the case dismissed if possible, and to win the best possible conditions of punishment if dismissal is not possible.
Convincing a judge to treat a defendant as a youthful offender can be a victory, but our work doesn’t end there. We also want to stay involved to ensure that the program is fairly dealing with the client and that they are not being unfairly penalized or violated without just cause.
If your child has been accused of a crime, call Stechschulte Nell for a case review today; 813-280-1244.