Throughout our lives we are all prone to making mistakes, especially when we are young. This is why our criminal justice system has a “youthful offender” status for those offenders who are under the age of 21.
The Florida Youthful Offender Act was approved by the state’s legislature in 1978 to provide young adults - who would normally be prosecuted in adult criminal court - with a less severe sentencing program. This Act was designed “to improve the chances of correction and successful return to the community of youthful offenders sentenced to imprisonment by providing them with enhanced vocational, educational, counseling, or public service opportunities and by preventing their association with older and more experienced criminals during the terms of their confinement.”
3 Conditions You Need to Meet in Order to Qualify as a Florida Youthful Offender
There are three conditions that must be met in order to qualify as a youthful offender. The first condition is that the person is at least 18. Those under 18 would normally be sent to juvenile court unless they are being tried as an adult, in which case they may still qualify for youthful offender status. The next condition is that the person has not already been classified as a youthful offender or found guilty of a life/capital felony previously. Finally, there is the condition that the defendant must be below the age of 21; however, this last condition has recently undergone a major change.
A Sublte But Critical Difference
Previously, Florida’s laws on the youthful offender classification required that defendants be under the age of 21 at the time of their sentencing in order to qualify. As of October 1, 2019, however, the law now states that a person may qualify as long as “[the] crime was committed before the defendant turned 21 years of age.”
The difference is subtle but critical. Before the change, defendants were left to the mercy of sentencing schedules and the drawn-out, bureaucratic nature of the criminal justice system as a whole. If a defendant happened to turn 21 years old while awaiting disposition of the case, he would no longer have been eligible for the Florida youthful offender program. Currently, the new rule is far simpler and much more straightforward. If a person was under the age of 21 when the crime was committed, they meet the under-21 condition of gaining youthful offender status, irrespective of their current age. Looks like you’re never too old to be a youthful offender!
If You're a Youthful Offender, Hire an Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorney
If you think that you or a loved one falls under the Florida Youthful Offender Act and need assistance defending your rights, it's imperative to hire askilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced member of our team, contact us online or call (954) 861-0384 today!
 It should be noted that the Second District Court of Appeal has determined the new youthful offender qualifications do not apply retroactively to defendant’s whose offenses occurred prior to the enactment of the legislation. See State v. Johns, 293 So. 3d 42 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020)