What if there were laws, which allowed criminal defendants to “learn from their mistakes” and if specific conditions were met, have their cases dismissed?
As it turns out there are such laws in Michigan and elsewhere and are generally called “deferrals.”
In Michigan, there are 11 such deferral laws and for today’s column I will provide some general information on one of the oldest.
On Jan. 1, 1967, a Michigan statute went into effect, which gave young criminal offenders the opportunity to keep criminal convictions off their records. The law is called the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA) and named after its sponsor Representative David Holmes.
The HYTA has been amended a number of times over the years but the general concept remains the same — an eligible defendant pleads guilty to a criminal offense and the court, without entering a judgment of guilt, defers the acceptance of the plea and places the defendant on probation as a “youthful trainee.”
If the defendant complies with the terms and conditions of probation the case is dismissed and there is no conviction. Additionally, from the time of the entry of the plea and thereafter the case is nonpublic and keeps this status as long as the defendant has obeyed the court’s orders.
If the defendant fails to comply, the probation can be revoked, a conviction entered, the defendant sentenced, and the case becomes a public record.
The current version of the HYTA provides that if an individual commits an offense on or after their 17th birthday but before their 24th birthday, they are eligible for this special status.
However offenses committed after the individual’s 21st birthday require the consent of the prosecuting attorney for the assignment.
There are certain offenses, which are excluded including life felonies, major controlled substance offenses, traffic offenses, and almost all criminal sexual conduct offenses. Granting HYTA status is in the discretion of the judge.
This law is an example of forgiveness and mercy and reminds me of the famous courtroom speech “The Quality of Mercy” from William Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice.”
Without repeating it here in its entirety the last line sums up the HYTA perfectly — “When mercy seasons justice.”
I urge readers to look it up — I think you’ll be glad you did.