What is a Youthful Offender Act (YOA) Sentence in SC?
SC’s Youthful Offender Act, or “YOA,” allows defendants who are 24 years of age or younger who receive a YOA sentence to avoid incarceration in the adult prison system.
A person who is sentenced under the YOA might avoid prison altogether, they might be sentenced to SHOCK incarceration (YOA boot camp), or they might be sentenced to incarceration not to exceed six years at a facility that is separate from the adult prison and that is focused on rehabilitation, treatment, and job training.
Below, we will look at:
- Who is eligible for a YOA sentence,
- The different types of YOA sentences,
- When you can get a YOA expungement, and
- The pros and cons of a YOA sentence.
What is SC’s Youthful Offender Act (YOA)?
The Youthful Offender Act, or YOA, was passed in recognition that younger people often make serious mistakes that should not brand them as a criminal for the rest of their lives.
If you are eligible for a YOA sentence, you can 1) avoid incarceration with adult offenders, 2) participate in treatment and job training programs that are not available to adult offenders, 3) sometimes avoid incarceration completely with a probationary sentence, and 4) get your conviction expunged five years after you complete your sentence.
Who is Eligible for a YOA Sentence?
SC Code Section 24-19-10 defines “youthful offender” as someone who is:
- 17-24 years old, whose charges are not classified as a violent crime under SC Code Section 16-1-60, and whose charges are 1) a misdemeanor, 2) a Class D, E, or F felony, or 3) a felony that carries 15 years or less,
- Less than 17 years old and charged in the Court of General Sessions, and whose charges are not classified as a violent crime under SC Code Section 16-1-60, and whose charges are 1) a misdemeanor, 2) a Class D, E, or F felony, or 3) a felony that carries 15 years or less,
- Less than 17 years old and charged with burglary second degree in the Court of General Sessions, but, if they are charged with burglary second degree violent (there are two types of burglary second degree, violent and non-violent), they must serve at least three years of the sentence, or
- 17-21 years old and charged with burglary second degree, but, if they are charged with burglary second degree violent, they must serve at least three years of the sentence.
CSC 3rd Degree Charges may be Eligible for a YOA Sentence, But…
The statute also says you are eligible for a YOA sentence if you are under 17 and charged in General Sessions Court with CSC with a minor 3rd degree and the act was consensual, or 17-24 years old and charged with CSC with a minor 3rd degree and the act was consensual, “provided the offender was eighteen years of age or less at the time of the act and the other person involved was at least fourteen years of age at the time of the act.”
If you fit this last category, you should instead be looking for a PCR lawyer immediately, because the “Romeo provision” contained in SC Code Section 16-3-655(C) says that “a person may not be convicted of a violation of the provisions of this subsection if the person is eighteen years of age or less when the person engages in consensual lewd or lascivious conduct with another person who is at least fourteen years of age.”
What are the Different Types of YOA Sentences?
There are three types of YOA sentences in SC:
- A suspended YOA sentence: the court can sentence you under the YOA but then suspend your sentence and place you on probation. If you complete the probation successfully, you don’t have to serve the YOA sentence. If your probation is revoked, you will have to serve an active YOA sentence.
- SHOCK incarceration: sometimes called “YOA boot camp,” SHOCK incarceration is a 60-day program (it may take longer than this) designed for rehabilitation that includes academic classes, vocational training, GED preparation when appropriate, counseling sessions, and physical exercise, followed by probation when you return home.
- Active YOA sentence: a period of incarceration in a YOA facility not to exceed six years – most people sentenced to an active YOA are released within four years and then placed on probation.
What is a YOA Expungement?
Your conviction and all records of your arrest and prosecution can be expunged – erased from your record – five years after the completion of your sentence.
To be eligible for a YOA expungement, you must have been sentenced under the YOA – in 2010, the legislature amended the previous law that was interpreted as allowing YOA expungements if the person would have been eligible for a YOA sentence.
This provision, which allows a person to erase their conviction and “start over,” is the primary motivation for most people who plead guilty under the Youthful Offender Act.
Why Do I Want a YOA Sentence?
There are some good things about YOA sentences, in cases where you do not have a solid defense and you do not want to take your case to trial, including:
- A YOA sentence can be suspended, and you can be placed on probation,
- If you serve prison time, it is in a separate facility from the adult prison and you will receive education, counseling, and job training,
- Your potential exposure to prison time is limited – the absolute worst-case scenario is release after four years, but you could serve up to six years if your probation is revoked, and
- Your record can be expunged five years after completion of the sentence.
Why Don’t I Want a YOA Sentence?
There are also plenty of reasons why you may not want a YOA sentence. For example:
- If you have a solid defense, your attorney may be able to get your case dismissed or win your case at trial,
- You may be eligible for pre-trial intervention (PTI) or another pretrial diversion program, or
- If you are absolutely opposed to serving any prison time and the prosecutor is not going to recommend a suspended YOA sentence, you may want to roll the dice and fight your charges in court – you should have a detailed discussion with your attorney about the evidence against you and the strength of your defense before making this decision, however.
Questions About the Youthful Offender Act in SC?
If you have been charged with a crime in SC, a Youthful Offender Act (YOA) sentence may be the right option for you, once your attorney has obtained and reviewed all evidence in your case.