Part of the purpose of a college education is to allow youths to become more independent and to practice critical decision-making skills in a safe, forgiving environment. Now, while the environment of a college town such as Auburn may indeed be more forgiving than the real world, experimenting with drugs and alcohol can still ultimately lead to very real criminal charges, no matter your status as a student. Even still, the state and local judicial bodies of Alabama acknowledge that youths make mistakes and don’t always necessarily deserve all of the negative implications that come with a criminal conviction. Following that sentiment, there exist two special programs for first-time criminal offenders hoping to keep their records clean or receive minimal penalties and fines: youthful offender and pretrial diversion.
Youthful Offender Status: Alabama Code §15-19-1
Alabama’s youthful offender program, described in the Alabama Code §15-19-1, is designed to give first time offenders a chance to avoid the many negative implications of receiving a criminal conviction. In order to be granted youthful offender status, which is much like juvenile status, the individual must be 21 years or younger at the time of the offense and currently facing criminal charges. Advantages of being adjudicated a youthful offender include reduced penalties, a sealed criminal record, or even a chance that the individual will not acquire a criminal record at all.
Defendants apply for youthful offender status through the Court. The individual will be subject to an examination by the Court to determine whether they are eligible. If the individual is granted youthful offender status, traditional courtroom proceedings are replaced by a more confidential trial format, but the defendant relinquishes their right to a trial by jury and the case will be heard by a judge.
Penalties: Your Record
As said before, the penalties applied to a defendant under youthful offender status are much less severe than those of an adult with the same charges. The main goal of the program is rehabilitation, so sentences will likely include community service or correctional treatment. Youthful offender status also provides that the defendant’s criminal record is sealed, which means that, in the event of a normal background search, your record will show no arrests or convictions. However, this sealed record does not preclude high-level background checks, such as those performed on those applying for positions as doctors, lawyers, teachers, military, or police officers. The status also provides that the youthful offender is not convicted of any specific crime. You are adjudicated a youthful offender. This is important on a job application as you may be asked whether you have ever been convicted of a crime.
Auburn, Lee County, and Opelika Pretrial Diversion
Pretrial diversion is another way for first-time offenders to receive a second chance, regardless of their age. Auburn, Lee County, and Opelika, all have pretrial diversion programs. According to the Lee County District Attorney, PTD, much like youthful offender, diverts the defendant from traditional courtroom proceedings and into “an individualized and supervised restorative program.” The difference is that if the defendant completes the program, which includes community service, counseling, and possible restitution payment, the case will not be brought to trial, and will either be dismissed or “nolle prossed.”
Dismissal Vs. Nolle Pros
In the event that a defendant completes the pretrial diversion program, their case will either be dismissed with prejudice or nolle prossed. Dismissal with prejudice effectively means that the case is dismissed and will not be refiled, the charges can be expunged from the defendant’s record immediately, with no chance that the case will be reopened. And, while neither dismissal or nolle pros result in a conviction, Auburn courts tend to nolle pros, which is slightly less advantageous.
Nolle prosequi is a Latin phrase that literally translates to “will no longer prosecute.” If a case is nolle prossed, charges will be dropped and no trial will take place; however, the defendant may have to wait up to two years before their record can be expunged, and the prosecution maintains the right to reopen the case and re-prosecute at any time until the statute of limitations (the period of time following a crime in which legal action may be taken) has run out.
Which Option is Right for You?
Both youthful offender status and pretrial diversion provide an opportunity for first time offenders to receive lessened penalties and even keep their criminal record clean. One difference between the two is that youthful offender status requires that the individual is under the age of 21 and can even be applied more than once, while pretrial diversion is a one-time chance for first-time offenders of any age. As far as criminal records are concerned, pretrial diversion is perhaps a more certain way to clean up your record by getting the case expunged after completion of the program. With youthful offender status the record is sealed and still subject to access under special circumstances.
Regardless of which option you choose, your ultimate goal should be to have it expunged entirely, eliminating any chance that the record will ever resurface. Most non-violent felonies, misdemeanors, municipal ordinance violations, and traffic violations are eligible for expungement, provided that the defendant was found “not guilty,” or the case was dismissed with or without prejudice.