6 Common Criminal Charges that Young Adults Often Face
While very few young people face charges for things like tax fraud or labor corruption, they do face a disproportionate number of arrests and charges for things like theft and shoplifting, assault and marijuana possession, while still other crimes – like underage drinking and using fake IDs – are strictly reserved for alleged offenders under 21. When young people face criminal charges like these, they do so from a position of distinct disadvantage: usually unfamiliar with the laws they’ve violated and in no financial position to pay for expensive lawyers and cover heavy fines. At the same time, their futures – the jobs and dreams they’ve spent their entire lives training for – hang in jeopardy for the duration of the legal process, and could be derailed or destroyed.
That said, the laws of New York State are designed to correct, rather than to punish, young adult and juvenile offenders. Prosecutors and judges often exercise their discretionary authority to reduce charges and to hand down “light” sentences in cases where they see the benefits of leniency as preferable to the likely effect of life-altering punishment.
However, preparedness is paramount. If you are a young person facing criminal charges, you can’t proceed on your own. Too much is at stake to risk a trial without the council of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Learn as much as you can about the common charges young people face, and then consult with a lawyer about the particulars of your situation.
Joyriding, Grand Theft Auto, and Grand Larceny
Colloquially, we use the term “joyriding” to describe stealing an automobile, usually for short-term use, or “for fun.” The most common scenario would be a child stealing a parent’s automobile. However, there is no formal charge of “joyriding” in New York State. Instead, anyone who takes a vehicle without the owner’s knowledge could be charged with “unlawful use of a vehicle in the third degree,” an A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. A second offense within ten years would result in a third degree unlawful use of a vehicle charge, an E felony punishable by up to four years in prison. You don’t have to be the one behind the wheel to face these penalties, either: even riding in a stolen vehicle qualifies – at least – for an “unlawful use” charge.
These, though, are on the low end of the list of potential charges. Technically, if you steal any vehicle valued in excess of $100, you could be charged with grand larceny of a vehicle in the fourth degree, an E felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison. If the vehicle in question is valued in excess of $30,000 or $50,000, a prosecutor could charge you with grand larceny in the third or second degree, with potential prison sentences of up to seven or fifteen years, respectively. You could also face associated charges, like auto stripping, driving without a license, or charges for damage to the vehicle or to other property.
It’s important to know that you can’t rely entirely on your parents’ forgiveness. A parent’s input could persuade a prosecutor to reduce charges, but they would not likely be dropped altogether. If you’ve illegally taken a parent’s car out onto the streets, it’s no longer a “family affair.” If you’ve stolen someone else’s car, the charges may be more serious, and you could face further action in civil court.
If a juvenile is charged with theft in New York, the offense might go to family court. Larger juvenile thefts will go to the Family Division of the State Superior Court, involving the county prosecutor. Even this might not have a devastating impact on a young person’s life. However, the most serious thefts will end up in front of a judge; a prosecutor may even request to have the juvenile tried as an adult. In general, punishment’s will vary based on the severity of the theft and the child’s age.
Shoplifting is a crime too often misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to leave a store with a stolen item to be charged; you might be arrested, charged, and convicted of shoplifting for concealing an item on your person without leaving the store – even if you claim you intended to pay for it. The problem doesn’t “go away” if you return the item, either. Store owners in New York know their rights, and will act aggressively to combat the practice of shoplifting by prosecuting individual shoplifters. In most cases, you could face a charge of petit larceny, with a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. That’s just in criminal court, though; you could face further penalties in civil court.
Underage drinking at a bar, and using a fake ID
If you’re underage and caught at a bar drinking alcohol, the establishment’s owner isn’t the only one in trouble. You could face a disorderly persons offense, or an indictable offense. Often these disorderly persons offenses will be coupled with a charge of false identification (for using a fake or stolen ID), which is an indictable offense.
An officer doesn’t have to find you with a drink in hand to write you up. If they search you and find your fake ID, the court will charge you with possession.
The exact charge or charges you face will depend upon the prosecutor. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know most of the county prosecutors in the state, and know their policies and tendencies. After looking at the facts of your case, that attorney will be able to make a well-educated guess as to the prosecutor’s likely decision, and will be able to help you plan for whatever comes next.
Like many other states, New York has a “zero tolerance” alcohol policy for drivers under 21. If you are under 21 and police pull you over, and if you blow a BAC of .01-.07, you will be charged with underage DWI. This will not go to criminal court – it will be handled within the Department of Motor Vehicles. The penalties for this are less severe than those for a normal DWI, and the DWI will not “count” on your future record (unlike normal, “adult” DWIs, which cannot be expunged).
Note, however, that even a trace of alcohol in your system will result in a charge.
If you blow a BAC of .08 or more, you will be treated as an adult. If you have a strong suspicion that you will register at .08 or above, you should weigh the option of refusing the breath test. You do have this right, but exercising it will carry consequences, including the automatic suspension of your license for one year, and fines from the DMV.
Possession of marijuana
However, if this is your first offense, your attorney may be able to secure an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (Marijuana ACD). This essentially means that charges will be dropped, contingent on certain conditions. For example, you must not face any other charges for a certain period of time, and you might have to undergo drug use evaluation and a counseling or rehabilitation program. If you meet these terms, your record would be “clean.”
Understanding penalties for juvenile crimes
You will be tried as an adult if you are 19 years or older. However, if you are between the ages 16 and 19, you may request and be granted “youthful offender status.”
Punishment in some form will always be involved in a criminal conviction, even for youthful offenders, but the state penal code places – ostensibly – a higher value on rehabilitation and behavioral correction than on punishment. The “youthful offender” distinction acknowledges that young people, while still responsible for their actions, may commit crimes with an ill-formed understanding of the consequences. Sentences for youthful offenders try to correct the criminal behavior while limiting the impact of a conviction on the rest of a young person’s life.
The least serious crimes – those with small damages and those that were perhaps not entirely intentional – may merit little more than a letter written to a judge or a victim. In most cases judges will sentence a “period of adjustment,” a kind of probation involving classes or other therapy to demonstrate to the court the child’s willingness to reintegrate into law-abiding society. More serious crimes may result in a sentence of imprisonment in a juvenile detention facility. In all cases, youthful offender convictions are “sealed” and do not count as full “criminal convictions.” This limits the impact of a conviction on a child’s educational and career prospects.
For violent crimes, though, a prosecutor is likely to request that a juvenile offender be tried as an adult.
Thirty years of criminal defense experience
If you’re a juvenile or the parent of a juvenile facing criminal charges, you can’t afford to face the courts without experienced legal representation. Carl Spector knows how to handle and defend against criminal charges that young adults often face. Contact The Law Office of Carl Spector today to set up a free, confidential consultation in our office on Wall Street in Manhattan. In the meantime, you can continue browsing the legal resources in our blog and video vault.