New York and North Carolina are the only two states that automatically prosecute all 16 and 17 year-olds as adults and New York permits youths as young as 13 years of age to be tried as an adult depending on the seriousness of the alleged crime. The Youthful Offender statute is designed to seal a juvenile conviction so as to relieve the eligible youth from the burden of having a criminal record.
Under NYS law a “youth” is a person charged with a crime alleged to have been committed when s/he was 16 years old & less than 19 years old. In the youthful offender adjudication, the records sealed meaning, all the records and files with the Court, the Police and the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) are sealed.
However, the records are still available to any institution to which the youth is committed, the division of Parole, the Probation department and the statewide Orders of Protection registry if an Order of Protection or family offense warrant is issued. Orders of Protection are also available to designated educational officials of a public or private school in which the youth is enrolled as a student.
If the accused is under 16 years old, but is at least 7 years old, commits a “crime” and s/he is then found to be in need of supervision, treatment or confinement, the person is called a “juvenile delinquent” and their case is tried in Family Court. As previously stated, children 13, 14 and 15 years of age accused of more serious crimes may still be tried as adults.
Under NYS Criminal Procedure Law 720, to get a Youthful Offender Adjudication, the defendant must be between 16-18 years old when the crime was committed, they must not have a prior felony conviction, they must not have previously been granted a YO Adjudication and they must not be accused of an AI or AII felony or other serious criminal offense.
The District Attorney will take into consideration several factors when prosecuting defendants under the age of 18, including their criminal record, family history and education level.
In the place of a guilty verdict the Court holds that a “finding” has been determined granting an eligible youth youthful offender status. The Judge will make a statement on the record of the reasons for the Court’s determination and impose a Youthful Offender sentence.
A Youthful Offender Adjudication permits the youth to begin their life without the stigma of a criminal conviction because in New York, YO Adjudication is not a criminal conviction and cannot disqualify a person from holding public office, gaining civil service employment, or being granted state licenses.