HYTA: A Second Chance for Youthful Offenders

The Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, or HYTA, is a newly amended law in Michigan that allows young persons charged with committing a criminal offense to earn a clean criminal record by undergoing a period of probation. Practically, this means that young offenders can avoid conviction and a criminal record by submitting to court supervision that can last up to three years. While HYTA was originally limited to offenders 17 through 20 years of age, Governor Rick Synder recently signed into law a new bill that expands the eligible age to include those up to 24 years old.

The new legislation coincides with recent research that suggests that the frontal lobe of the brain does not fully develop until a person's mid- to late-twenties. The frontal lobe is the portion of the brain responsible for empathy, judgment, impulse control, and decision-making. This research helps to explain why younger people tend to make rash decisions and can be easily influenced by peers and addictive substances. Because young people do not have the same high-level cognitive abilities as older adults, they tend to make decisions without considering the consequences of their actions. When these decisions lead a young person to become involved in the criminal justice system, the offender may suffer severe obstacles throughout the rest of his life because of it. Besides the obvious consequences a criminal record has for a person's career, a criminal record can also create significant obstacles in regard to obtaining housing, applying for college, and paying for college. Unlike older adults, younger offenders also do not have the work or social history to demonstrate that their criminal conviction was an outlying event unreflective of their true character.

HYTA is a vehicle for helping younger offenders-those who research has demonstrated have lower cognitive ability-avoid those consequences of criminal conviction. To gain youthful trainee status under HYTA, an offender must be 17 through 23 years old. The offender must convince his judge to grant youthful trainee status; if the offender is 21 or older, he must also convince the prosecuting attorney to recommend the status. When making their decisions, the judge and the prosecuting attorney look for information that indicates that the criminal offense was a product of immature decision-making and that it does not reflect the offender as a person. If this is the case, they are more likely to recommend HYTA status. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help an offender gain approval of the judge and the prosecuting attorney by recommending activities prior to the court hearing-such as community service-and through advocacy at the hearing itself.

If the judge chooses to give an offender youth trainee status, he also has the discretion to place the offender on probation for up to 3 years. The judge can alternatively place the offender in county jail for up to 1 year or a special HYTA-offender-only prison for up to 2 years, plus an additional year of probation, but in practice, jail or prison time is unusual. The typical offender receives only probation in exchange for youthful trainee status. Additionally, if the crime in question is punishable by imprisonment of less than 1 year, the judge can only place the offender on probation for up to 2 years and cannot impose any jail or prison time.

During probation, in addition to fulfilling the recommendations of the probation officer, the offender may also be required to either continue attending or to apply to a job, a high school or equivalency program, or a college. If the offender is aged 21 or older, he may also be subject to electronic monitoring during probation. Should the offender violate the terms of his probation, he may be subject to jail time. Excessive probation violations, as well as the commission of certain high-level crimes, can result in the revocation of youthful trainee status.

While successful completion of probation results in a clean criminal record, a non-public record of the status does exist. Those employers with access to non-public records, such as the government, those who contract with the government, or the military, are able to view this non-public record. HYTA does not result in an expungement of the offense. Expungements can only occur following a criminal conviction. Since youthful trainee status does not result in a conviction, an expungement is unnecessary.

The following offenses are not eligible for HYTA: a felony carrying a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, a major controlled substance offense, a traffic offense, and most criminal sexual conduct crimes.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offense and is 17 to 24 years old, an experienced attorney can help you understand if HYTA is the best avenue for a clean criminal record.

By George Zulakis, Attorney at Law

& Elizabeth Kingston, Law Clerk