The New York State Quarter released in 2001, w...
Image via Wikipedia

I started my legal career at the Chemung County District Attorney’s Office where I prosecuted crimes against women and children, (and just happened meet my wonderful hubby).

Today I received an inquiry from WETM’s Law Talk regarding youthful offender adjudication.  The inquiry read:

I am curious about my Youth Offender status.  I made a stupid mistake and got arrested..small misdemeanor charge, nothing serious…anyways I spent a couple of hours in jail and went to court the next morning.  Since it was my first offense I was put as a Youth Offender and they said it would not be put on my record or “replacing an actual conviction” if I stay out of trouble of course for certain period of time.  Now I called the courthouse and was told my record is “clean” and will remain clean until for that period of time until they throw it out when the time comes.  I also called the Sheriff’s office where I was arrested and they said my arrest record along with the court record is sealed and will be thrown out when I finish my unwatched probation.

I had a background check done on me and nothing shows up…and I was also told that even though I was fingerprinted they will not send my fingerprints to the FBI because again my record is still considered clean.  I understand I can still have this put on my record if I mess up.

I just want verify if this is the case..I don’t want it sent up to the FBI and I want to know what’s your say on this.  Is this basically a 2nd chance for me not to mess up?  How certain is it that they will throw it out if I complete my probation?  Is there a certain law that applies with Youth Offenders?

This gave me a good chance to wade through the cobwebs in my noggin and think about Criminal Law for a few minutes.  I responded:

You are correct.  Unless you have something unrelated to this on your record, your record is clean.

New York State Law essentially allows young people under 18 who are charged with a misdemeanor a free pass the first time they get into trouble.  In other words, the misdemeanor conviction for a person age 18 or younger is replaced with “Youthful Offender Status” and the person’s record remains clear.

The law makes the replacement of a misdemeanor conviction with YO mandatory (called “mandatory YO”) for all people under 18 if that person has not been convicted (i.e. has not received YO in the past), though it may not apply to some misdemeanor sex crimes.   I am not sure.  A judge generally has discretion to grant YO (called “discretionary YO”) to any person under 18 regardless of the person’s past criminal history, though most judges do so very rarely.

My guess is you plead guilty to the misdemeanor and were granted mandatory YO and a conditional discharge or probation, meaning if you stay out of trouble for one year from the time you plead guilty the court will lose jurisdiction to resentence you.  If you get into trouble, the judge can bring you back into court and impose a greater sentence (jail, probation, etc), but, with respect to this charge, you should always be mandatory YO.

The bottom line is if what you say is true, your record is squeaky clean and you should not have any problems.  Keep in mind most background checks ask if you have ever been “convicted” of a crime.  The answer for you is no – YO is NOT a conviction.  But, be careful of the wording in the background check.  It may ask if you have ever been “arrested”, in which case you would have to say yes.

Thanks for reading,

Christina Bruner Sonsire, Esq.
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, New York 14902-1338
Office: 607.733.8866
Toll-Free: 800.ZIFFLAW (943.3529)