If we all took some time to reflect on our lives between the age of seventeen and twenty-five years old, I think most of us would say we were less than perfect and may have made a mistake or two along the way. Perhaps you or a loved one is in that stage in their life right now and has made one bad decision that resulted in being charged with a crime. When we are young we may make a poor judgement call and, thankfully, the South Carolina legislature recognized that those mistakes should not necessarily define the rest of our lives. Hence, the Youthful Offender Act, or "YOA" in South Carolina.
What is the Youthful Offender Act (YOA) in South Carolina?
The South Carolina Youthful Offender Act was designed to allow an alternative option for youthful offenders convicted of certain nonviolent crimes in South Carolina. In other words, if the person qualifies for a YOA sentence, then the goal of the YOA is to rehabilitate juveniles before they become adults. You can only be sentenced under the YOA law one time. Generally, you must have been charged with a non-violent crime (it can be either a misdemeanor or felony) with a maximum potential sentence that does not exceed 15 years in prison. With every law, however, there are exceptions to the general rules. For example, burglary second degree has a maximum qualifying age of 21 years old (as opposed to 25 years old for other crimes) and also requires three years minimum jail time.
What are some of the reasons I would want to be sentenced under the YOA law?
One option under the YOA law allows a judge to have the opportunity to suspend your sentence under the YOA and place you on probation. In other words, you would not be required to be incarcerated at all. Another reason the YOA sentence is attractive for first time offenders is that you may, depending on what you were convicted of, be eligible to have your conviction expunged if 5 years have passed since the end of your sentence and you have not had any other convictions during that 5-year period. Another benefit of the YOA program is in a situation where you or a loved one is charged with a violent crime that normally would not be eligible for the YOA sentence; however, your criminal defense attorney can try to negotiate a plea bargain allowing you to plead to a lesser offense so that you can be sentenced under the YOA law. The YOA sentence also has limited prison exposure because, if you are sentenced to prison, then you must be conditionally released within 4 years of incarceration and unconditionally released within 6 years of incarceration.
Is the YOA option the best option for me or my loved one?
With the intricacies of the YOA law, it is important to consult an experienced South Carolina criminal defense attorney who can explain whether you or your loved one would qualify and if that is the best option for them. In some cases, it is not the best option. For example, you may be eligible for other programs such as pretrial intervention or conditional discharge. There are several other reasons you may or may not want to pursue a YOA sentence. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to have your case dismissed or find a better alternative for you or your loved one. In other words, it is never a good idea to plead guilty right away without first speaking to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Therefore, if you or a loved one are between the ages of 17 and 25 and charged with a crime in South Carolina, please contact our office today for a free consultation to discuss what is best for you.