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Uses and Abuses of Convictions Set Aside Under the Federal Youth Corrections Act

NCJ Number
Duke Law Journal Volume: 3 Dated: (1981) Pages: 477-514
F C Zacharias
Date Published
38 pages
Section 5021 of the 1950 Federal Youth Corrections Act, (FYCA), which provides that convicted youthful offenders who satisfy their sentence requirements may have their convictions set aside, is examined with respect to its legislative history and situations in which a set-aside conviction may assume significance.
The issue of whether courts should permit these convictions to be used to the detriment of the offender is also examined. The law's legislative history gives limited guidance as to the circumstances under which a young offender's set-aside conviction may be called up for use. As a result, courts have reached inconsistent results when interpreting the process of setting a conviction aside. In some situations, the intent of Congress is clear. For example, Congress expressly intended that the setting aside of a conviction would allow the offender the full exercise of civil rights. Thus, a court should not deny a FYCA offender the right to carry a firearm, to sit on a jury, or to become a member of the bar. In addition, a prior set-aside conviction should not be used to determine an offender's sentence for a second offense or to prosecute a FYCA offender under a recidivist statute. However, permissible uses of set-aside convictions include the impeachment of a nonparty witness at trial and the selection of an offender for pretrial diversion. When making decisions in situations in which a set-aside conviction appears, judges should try to achieve a careful balance between FYCA purposes and strong societal interests that compete against these purposes. Footnotes are provided.