Articles on South Carolina Law

SC Youthful Offender Act: Who, What, When, Where & Why

by | Sep 14, 2017 | Criminal Defense, Juvenile Defense

Let’s say you or someone you know is between the ages of 17 and 25 and up until now have gone their whole life with no criminal record. But they did something incredibly stupid, or just made a bad judgement call that resulted in an arrest.

Does that person have to live with this one bad judgement on their criminal record for the rest of their lives? How could one bad decision affect their future in so many ways?

A conviction for a crime of dishonesty may take that person out of the running for potential good jobs. A felony conviction could keep someone from getting student loans or going to college.

South Carolina YOA:

Thankfully, the South Carolina legislature recognizes that no one is perfect and people make mistakes when they are young. This recognition is the reason behind the Youthful Offender Act (YOA).

If the person is 17-25 years old, depending on what they are charged with, they may be eligible, after a period of time, to have this mistake not follow them for the rest of their lives. Those youths may have the opportunity to have the charge expunged. They may not have to go to an adult facility to do jail time and be mixed with dangerous adults who are twice their size.

If you believe that the Youthful Offender Act may apply to you, keep reading to find out the who, what, when, where and why of the YOA in South Carolina.

Who qualifies under the YOA?

There are two main considerations to answer this question: the age of the offender and the crime he or she is charged with.


Since the title refers to “youthful offenders,” you might assume that the YOA is for juveniles; however this is not necessarily the case.

If the person was 16 years or younger at the time the crime occurred and they are being charged as a juvenile, and they are not being charged as an adult, this person will not be eligible for a YOA. That person would be considered a juvenile and would go to court in family court.

However, if the person is 16 or younger at the time of the crime and is charged as an adult, then they may be eligible for a YOA.

If someone who is 16 or younger at the time of the arrest, the case would be moved from Family Court to General Sessions (“big court” or “adult court”).

If the person was at least 17 years old, but less than 25 at the time of the crime, they may be eligible for a YOA.

Type of Crime

Not every case is eligible for a YOA. Certain types of crimes are too serious or too violent to be considered for a YOA. The South Carolina statutes dictate what types of crimes are eligible for a YOA. However, there may be ways around this.

For example, let’s say you are charged with an offense that the statutes say you cannot get a YOA on. But if your attorney can convince the prosecutor through plea bargaining to lower your charge to something that is allowed under the YOA, you may be eligible for a YOA. The prosecutor must first lower the charge to make it eligible for YOA.

What is the YOA?

The Youthful Offender Act was created to give juvenile and young offenders a second chance at a clean slate when entering adulthood. It aims to rehabilitate juvenile offenders before they can become adult offenders. One major benefit is the ability to tailor the sentence to the specific situation in order to help the offender rather than punish.

When does YOA apply?

It is very important to understand that YOA is a once in a lifetime chance. You can’t be sentenced to the YOA more than one time in your life.

First, you must have been charged with a crime that is “non-violent” under South Carolina law. “Non-violent” is a classification of criminal charges. For example, murder is violent, but petty larceny is non-violent.

Second, the charge can be either a misdemeanor OR felony as long as the charge carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. Even if you have already been convicted, the YOA can apply. It also doesn’t require a plea bargain with the Solicitor.

There are some exceptions to these general rules:

2nd degree burglary charges require 3 years minimum of jail time. Also, the maximum age for a juvenile to qualify under YOA is 21 years old.

Also, 3rd degree criminal sexual conduct w/ a minor charges have different requirements. For a juvenile to qualify the act must have been consensual AND offender was 18 years old or less and the victim was 14 years old or more at the time the crime was committed.

Where are YOA convictions carried out?

A suspended YOA sentence means you don’t have to go to jail and will be on probation. A probationary sentence means you have to follow certain rules that a judge orders you to follow, but you do not have be in jail during this time. You have a jail sentence hanging over your head, but if you complete the terms of your probation successfully, you will not have to go to jail. However, if you violate the terms of your probation, you may have to go to jail.

If you were ordered to go to jail, you would serve time at a YOA facility. This means a facility with other young people serving a YOA jail sentence are serving time. You would not be mixed in with the adult population.

If you are serving an “Active Y”, you will be in a YOA jail. These types of jails are minimum security institutions. If the institution is a facility that also houses adult offenders, the adult offenders will be in a separate part of the jail. You will only be housed with other people that were in the eligible age group and type of crime to qualify for a YOA. Active YOA’s can also be served, if there is space and you qualify, at camps, farms, etc. Your attorney would be able to give you a better idea on whether you qualify.

Why would you want a YOA sentence?

Youthful Offender Act sentences are not always the best option in every single case. Below are some pros and cons of YOA sentences.


  • Judge can suspend your sentence and put you on probation
  • You may be able to have your conviction expunged if it was your 1st offense, not boating or traffic related, 5 years have passed since end of sentence, and you have had no other convictions during that 5 year period
  • Possibility of “shock incarceration”
  • Eligible for conditional supervision within 4 years of incarceration
  • Eligible for unconditional release within 6 years of incarceration


  • It isn’t always the best option = pretrial intervention and conditional discharge is better
  • Evaluations while incarcerated take up to 60 days before sentencing
  • Indeterminate sentencing is always a possibility
  • You can only use it once!

Wondering if you should take advantage of the SC Youthful Offender Act?

Are you eligible for a YOA? Does your loved one deserve to have a bright future and not have this mistake follow him/her the rest of his life?

Facing criminal charges is serious, especially if you are young. If you are ready to start protecting your future the first step is to discuss your case with an attorney who can help prepare your defense.

Contact Susan Williams to find out if she can help. Set up a free consultation so our team can examine the facts of your case. You don’t have to fight this battle alone.

Just call (843) 607-9800 or contact us through our online form.

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