There is plenty of information on this site about adult cases and juvenile cases. But what about cases where you are technically an adult (over the age of 18), but you’re still too young and immature to fully realize the consequences of your actions?

Youthful Offender sentencing is an option that covers that “gap.”

Youthful Offender status is a tool that allows us to humanize our client to the Court. It gives the Court a legal basis to step outside the “norm” and impose a more humane punishment. A punishment that is tough but fair. A punishment that gives a young person a chance to still lead a normal life as a productive member of society.

What is Youthful Offender (YO) sentencing?

Youthful offender sentencing is an alternative sentencing scheme to provide counseling, educational, and vocational opportunities to young offenders in hopes that they can be returned to the community and avoid re-offending. Youthful offender sentencing is for offenders over 18 but under 21 at the time the crime was committed. This concept keeps young offenders segregated from the typical adult population to prevent them from being exposed to more dangerous prisoners in the Dept. of Corrections system.

Who is eligible for Youthful Offender Sentencing?

Youthful offender sentencing is for persons between the ages of 18-21 and juveniles (under 18) that have been transferred to adult court. This sentencing scheme can be through Court order when accepting a plea or through classification with the Department of Corrections. If classified by the department, as opposed to Court order, the maximum age to qualify is increased to 24 years old.

Persons who have been classified as a youthful offender in the past or if the charged offense is a capital or life felony are not eligible for youthful offender sentencing.

What are the benefits of Youthful Offender Sentencing?

YO sentencing has many benefits. The greatest benefit to youthful offender sentencing is the 6-year cap. That means if you are sentenced as a youthful offender, the Court cannot give you a sentence that exceeds 6 years. While the thought of facing any prison time is devastating, youthful offender sentencing can reduce the amount of time you could have received for the same charged offense. For example, a person charged with a second-degree felony, usually punishable by up to 15 years in state prison, can receive a sentence of no more than 6 years.

Another significant benefit to YO sentencing is YO removes mandatory sentencing. Many charges in Florida have mandatory sentences. This means if you are convicted of one of those charges, no matter the agreement for an alternative sentence, you would receive the mandatory sentence as the lowest sentence you could serve. For example, an adult charged with possession of a firearm as a convicted felon carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 years. That adult will serve at the minimum 3 years in the Department of Corrections and will not receive credit for time served. That adult will serve the entire 1,095 days in state prison. If that same adult was under 21 and sentenced as a youthful offender, the youthful offender guidelines would remove the minimum mandatory sentence. A YO charged with the same offense could receive as little as 4 months in a basic training program.

Some of other benefits include lower risk facilities, education, counseling, vocational training, and preparation for re-entry after incarceration. In addition to potential segregation from the adult prison population, every youthful offender sentenced to the Department of Corrections is evaluated for entry into a youthful offender basic training program.

What is the Boot Camp or Basic Training option in the Florida Dept. of Corrections?

The basic training program is a military-style structured program that lasts for a minimum of 120 days. The benefit of successfully completing basic training is that the youthful offender will receive a shorter sentence than they would have served without the program.

Once a youth is received by the Department of Corrections they are automatically evaluated for basic training. Provided they can complete the mental and physical requirements for the program, they will be transferred for basic training. Upon completion of the 4-month program, the youth is placed on community supervision or probation. This means a youthful offender that would otherwise have been sentenced to 2 years in prison can be released in as little as 4 months.

How does Youthful Offender Sentencing work?

Youthful Offender Sentencing allows the sentencing Judge to use discretion and impose a sentence that ordinarily might not be possible under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines used for adults.

Under Florida Statute 958.04, A youthful offender sentence can be disposed of in the following ways:

  1. Supervision: The Court can impose probation or community control for no more than 6 years. If the charged offense has a maximum of less than 6 years, the Court cannot impose more than the max for the offense.
  2. Incarceration: The Court can impose incarceration as a condition of probation or community control for no longer than 364 days.
  3. Split Sentence: The Court may impose a split sentence that includes incarceration and probation or community control. This means the Court could sentence you to the 6-year cap but the sentence can be split in any number of ways. For example, you could be sentenced to 2 years with the Department of Corrections followed by 4 years of probation or community control. If you are sentenced under a split scheme, the incarcerative portion cannot be for less than 1 year and cannot exceed 4 years.
  4. Straight Incarceration: The Court cannot impose a sentence of more than 6 years for the charged offense. Under this scheme, the offender would be screened upon entry for the basic training program.

What Should I Do Now?

If your son or daughter has been charged in adult court and they are under the age of 21, it is critically important to your child’s freedom that you call an experienced juvenile defense attorney immediately.

We have secured Youthful Offender status in the past for clients in Fort Walton Beach and throughout Okaloosa County. Children who didn’t deserve to go to prison. Children who needed someone on their side who could see that they were worth saving.

At Flaherty & Merrifield, we focus our practice on defending serious felony cases. We also defend children that have been charged in juvenile court. This range of expertise allows our team to secure better results than other attorneys who “dabble” in felony work or juvenile defense.

You can also count on the compassion and understanding your family needs and deserves as you endure this terrible experience. We are parents too and we understand you are in a difficult position between teaching your child and protecting your child. Our team will do everything possible to protect your child and ease your stress.

Contact an Okaloosa County Juvenile Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one have been charged with a juvenile offense in Okaloosa County, call Flaherty & Merrifield today at (850) 243-6097 for a free consultation.

Brandy Merrifield
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney