By The TimesLedger<
Last week a Queens judge sentenced four of the seven men convicted of beating two Bangladeshi men outside a bar in Astoria. Two of the men were sentenced to spend the next five years in a state prison. The other two men were given youthful offender (YO) status and were sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.
The law allows judges to treat defendants who commit crimes after their 16th birthday and before their 19th birthday as youthful offenders. Although they were tried and convicted as adults, the punishment is less severe and includes some of the protections offered to juveniles. The YO case is sealed. When the defendant completes his punishment, there is no public record of the conviction and no obstacle to future employment.
The goal is to give young defendants a second chance. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is that if a YO is arrested and convicted of a new crime, the judge cannot consider his prior conviction. The defendant cannot be treated as a predicate felon.
The YO law should be amended to say that if a YO is convicted of a new crime, especially a violent felony, the protections offered by his or her YO status should be removed. YOs who are willing to lead a law-abiding life would still get the benefits, but YOs who continue to commit crime will not be able to hide behind this well-intentioned law.