Youthful offender is a special status that not only limits the length of punishment and length of probation but greatly restricts the release of information to the general public. The law that determines Youthful Offender (YO) status is found in Section15-19-7, Code of Alabama (1975). It reads in pertinent part, “No determination made under the provisions of this chapter shall disqualify any youth for public office or public employment, operate as a forfeiture of any right or privilege or make him ineligible to receive any license granted by public authority, and such determination shall be deemed a conviction of a crime; provided, however, that he or she is not subsequently convicted of a crime, the prior adjudication shall be considered.”
The Supreme Court of the State of Alabama set out the law for Youthful Offender status in the case, Ex parte T.B., 698 So.2d 127 (Ala. 1997). This case is the controlling authority over Youthful Offender Adjudication. It is very important to remember that when a person between the ages of 18 and 21 pleads guilty to Youthful Offender the maximum sentence they can receive is 3 years and they are not pleading to a crime but to Youthful Offender Status with an underlying crime substantiating the YO plea. The above stated case reads as follows,
“The Youthful Offender Act (was) intended to extricate persons below the age of twenty-one years of age from the harshness of criminal prosecution and conviction. It (was) designed to provide them with the benefits of an informal, confidential, rehabilitative system. Youthful Offender Proceedings are not criminal in nature. Youthful Offender adjudications are special proceedings designed to protect persons in a certain age group, heretofore tried as adults from the stigma and often harmful consequences of the criminal adjudicatory process. It is a manifestation of the legislature’s judgment that while persons are still young may more readily and appropriately respond to methods of treatment which are more rehabilitative and more correctional and less severe than penalties to which adults are exposed. It is an extension so to speak, of the protective juvenile process. The institution of special procedures is a right vested by the State and their application lies within the discretion of the State.”
“From the clear language of Section 15-19-7(a), although an underlying act constitutes a felony, an adjudication of youthful offender status is “NOT A CONVICTION OF FELONY” within the meaning of Section 12-22-222, Code of Alabama (1975), the corroboration statute; it is not a conviction at all.” Ex parte T.B., 698 So.2d 127, 129 (Ala. 1997).
Youthful Offender is a useful tool to get some criminal cases disposed of in ways that will not affect your future. However, it is still fair to say that even with the law above, when you apply for certain professional licenses you must disclose even a youthful offender conviction. Our firm strongly recommends not disclosing a Youthful Offender conviction without consulting an attorney on the legalities of whether you are bound to disclose it legally or not. It is also important to always apply for youthful offender even if you think there is no shot that you are going to get it. We have tried many youthful offender hearings where we prepared our clients for the worst but with our preparation and collection of the correct witnesses, we were able to get the Judge to rule with us and grant our client YO status.