Youthful offender status up for debate

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, March 21, 2013

A bill up for debate in the Alabama House would keep suspects charged with Class-A felonies from having their cases settled under a youthful offender status.

The bill has already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee and is being sponsored by State. Rep. Phil Williams of Huntsville.

A youthful offender status can be granted to people, usually under the age of 21, and provides for more lenient sentences for younger convicts. In many cases, the status also makes a conviction secret.

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According to Alabama law, Class-A Felonies include murder and capital murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree rape, first-degree domestic violence, first-degree burglary and first-degree arson.

With convictions of those crimes, sentences can be no less than 10 years and no more than life or 99 years. If a deadly weapon is used, the sentence is a minimum of 20 years. An immediate sentence of life is given for capital murder.

According to numbers provided by the Alabama Policy Institute, during 2006, 3,919 juveniles (those under the age of 18) were arrested in Alabama. Of those arrests, 657 were for violent crimes – 39 homicides, 29 rapes, 235 robberies and 373 assaults. The API numbers show that while juvenile crime decreased during the five years leading up to the 2006 report, violent crimes committed by juveniles increased.

And those numbers are just for people 18 and under. If crime committed by potential youthful offenders is going up, it makes sense to try something new.

If passed, the Alabama bill would exclude those charged with the most serious of crimes from having their cases settled under youthful offender status.

Williams said he was motivated by efforts to keep a Huntsville man charged in the death of an eight-year-old from being considered a youthful offender. He said he believes the bill would send a message to people that serious crimes yield serious punishment.

Supporting the proposed bill would ultimately allow for the implementation of the youthful offender status as it should be used.

Juveniles and those who make smaller mistakes should sometimes be afforded a second chance. Those who inflict violence on others should be held accountable for their actions.