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If a client is found guilty after trial or pleads guilty to an offense in a Florida criminal court, a criminal defense lawyer may seek to have the client classified as a Youthful Offender (YO). If the client qualifies as a YO, the court has a broader range of sentencing options which may benefit the client. Florida law permits either the trial court or the state Department of Corrections to designate someone as a YO. In order to qualify, the individual must meet certain criteria under the statute.

First, the defendant must be at least 18 but less than 21 years old at the time of sentencing. Defendants under 18 may also qualify if they were tried as an adult. Second, the defendant must not have previously been classified as a YO. There are some other limitations on who may qualify as a YO. For example, anyone convicted of a capital or life felony is not eligible to be sentenced as a YO.

If a person meets the requirements for being sentenced as a YO, the trial court has the option of placing the YO on supervised probation or in a community control program for a maximum time period of six years. The court may also elect to withhold an adjudication of guilt. In a “withhold” situation, the defendant is sentenced to a period of probation and the charge does not become a conviction if the defendant successfully completes the period of probation. The major advantage of a withhold is being able to truthfully state that you have never been convicted of a crime in the future although the charge itself was never “dropped.” Additional options for the court include splitting a sentence where the YO is incarcerated for a period of time followed by a period of probation or community control or committing the defendant to the custody of the Department of Corrections. The period of incarceration may be ordered to be served in a YO basic training program or so-called “boot camp.”

If you have questions about whether the Florida YO statute may apply to you, call for a free confidential consultation with an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer.