State's Attorney for a Day: Youthful Offender

Every day, state's attorneys are charged with making life-altering decisions. What would you do when faced with these kinds of decisions, and what impact might those choices have on everyday Vermonters' lives?

Case 4: A 19 year-old is arrested for stealing a car. The car was recovered a week later, abandoned, and returned to the owner with no damage. The person has no prior arrests.

Vermont has a statute that permits young people arrested for certain crimes to be adjudicated in family court, making the proceedings confidential to protect them from collateral consequences and providing treatment instead of the possibility of jail time. The prosecutor has a choice of whether to file criminal charges in the criminal court or youthful offender charges in family court.

What would you do with this case? 

A: Charge the person as an adult criminal defendant in criminal court.

A.A: Charge the person as an adult criminal defendant in criminal court.


With such charges, this person will have a criminal record making it very difficult to get a job, receive housing assistance, or apply for loans. Charging a young person also makes it much more likely that they will be jailed pretrial. Prison is a dangerous place for young people that can exacerbate challenges they were facing before they went in.

Not only does charging a young person as an adult mean the case will be public, harming their future prospects and increasing the likelihood that they will be stigmatized, it also lets society off the hook for having failed to properly raise the young person. Because the brain continues to develop into our mid-twenties, it makes sense to protect young people from stigma and imprisonment for minor mistakes of their youth because they are still receptive to changing themselves for the better and are likely to grow out of any youthful behavior problems.

B: Charge the person as a "youthful offender" in family court.

A.B: Charge the person as a "youthful offender" in family court.


It is far too easy for a school or employer to search a person’s name on the internet and find out about the crime they committed. Protecting the identities of young people who make mistakes prevents them from being stigmatized at an early age, and will help them access education, employment, housing, and credit as they grow up.

C: Refer the case to restorative justice.

A.C: Refer the case to restorative justice.


Restorative justice allows the young person to repair the harm they’ve done to the victim, the community, and themselves through monetary restitution, accessing counseling services, and apologizing. If the person completes the restorative justice plan, no charge would be filed.