Criminal Law Blog

The Youth Rehabilitation Act Gives Superior Court Judges Discretion To Set Aside A Young Offender’s Misdemeanor Convictions

Ferguson v. United States (decided April 13, 2017).

Players: Chief Judge Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge McLeese, and Senior Judge Reid. Opinion by Judge Reid. Christine Pembroke for Mr. Ferguson. Trial Judge: Lynn Leibovitz

Facts: In September 2014, Mr. Ferguson was sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA) to concurrent sentences of 30 days in jail, execution of sentence suspended, followed by 12 months of probation for two counts of attempted threats. After Mr. Ferguson was arrested on new misdemeanor charges in February 2015, the court revoked his probation and ordered him to serve the 30 days. Mr. Ferguson served his time, and in 2015, he completed his probation.

In April 2015, Mr. Ferguson moved to set side his convictions, explaining the misdemeanor case against him had been dismissed. The trial court denied the motion, reasoning, “Under D.C. Code § 24-906(b), if a defendant has served his sentence under the YRA before unconditional discharge, it is the [Parole Commission], and not the court, that has jurisdiction to set aside the conviction.”

Issue: Does the Superior Court have jurisdiction to set aside convictions under the YRA where the term of probation expires prior to a misdemeanant youth offender’s unconditional discharge?

Holding: Yes. The Parole Commission and the Superior Court have different duties depending on the category of offender. Under D.C. Code § 24-906(c), the Parole Commission is authorized to terminate the term of supervised release of a youthful felon before it expires, and if the term of release is terminated, the young offender is entitled to an automatic set aside of his/her conviction.

However, because Mr. Ferguson committed a misdemeanor, and because he was not unconditionally discharged before his probation ended, he was not entitled to the automatic set aside of his convictions. Rather, as D.C. Code § 24-906(e) “plainly states”: “If the sentence of a youth offender who has been placed on probation by the court expires before unconditional discharge, the court may, in its discretion, set aside the conviction.”

Consistent with the plain language of the statute, the trial judge did indeed have jurisdiction to consider Mr. Ferguson’s motion to set aside his convictions. The DCCA therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. DH

Read full opinion here