Florida’s Youthful Offender Law

If you are under twenty-one years at the time of sentencing you are eligible in Florida to request your criminal case be sentenced under Florida’s Youthful Offender Statute. Crimes committed in Florida by those less than twenty-one years old on the date of their sentencing can be sentenced under the Punishment Code under this statute. Prior to 2008 the statute only required that the offender have been under twenty-one at the time of the offense. For reasons best known by the Legislature, but beyond common sense, the law was amended to require that the sentencing be done before one’s twenty-first birthday. This cruelty forces young people to plead out otherwise defensible charges if the delays of court will take the case beyond their twenty-first birthday. Florida’s Youthful Offender Statute limits the sentence to six years. The Judge can combine multiple criminal sanctions (prison, probation, community control) but cannot exceed six years of any combination and permutation of these sanctions. If you are accused of a crime in Florida and you want to seek Youthful Offender status you must plead guilty or be adjudicated guilty at trail, and then ask the Judge to sentence you under the Youthful Offender statute. The obvious problem is if you are not guilty or have a legal defense you cannot pursue them. Secondly: the Judge will not tell you if he intends to sentence under the Youthful Offender statute before you plead guilty. You therefore have no assurance that the Judge will agree to limit sentencing to six years until after the guilt phase is over. Your South Florida criminal defense lawyer can ask the Judge for an indication that Youthful Offender Status will be granted but Judge’s are under no requirement to decide to grant Youthful Offender Statius until after the defendant has been found and adjudicated guilty.