“Youthful offender” sentencing to be key issue for Jacksonville teen pleading guilty to vehicular homicide

The state will seek 35 years in prison for a 16-year-old Jacksonville boy who pleaded guilty last week to Jacksonville vehicular homicide charges in connection with the death of a 22-year-old hospital employee. Zachary Lambert was being chased by police about 3 a.m. after an officer saw him driving erratically, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Four miles later, Lambert’s truck sped through an intersection and hit another car, killing the 22-year-old driver. Lambert was initially charged with murder, but the charge was amended and he pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in Duval County, according to the newspaper report. His deal with the state attorney also included guilty pleas to Jacksonville Grand Theft Auto and Jacksonville Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a Law Enforcement Officer. His Jacksonville Criminal Attorney told the newspaper she will seek a youthful offender sentence for Lambert.

A youthful offender sentence in Jacksonville, Florida is available for a judge when the defendant is 21 years of age or younger at the time of sentencing. Florida Youthful Offender sentences are a maximum of six years in prison, but are typically a combination of prison and some form of Jacksonville probation (for example, four years in prison followed by two years of Duval County house arrest). The sentences are also focused more on rehabilitation, designed to help the young men and women lead productive lives once they have served their time. Youthful offender sentences are not the same as juvenile sentences. For one, the person must be charged as an adult. Jacksonville juvenile sanctions typically only apply when a defendant is charged as a juvenile – which is happening less and less often in Clay County, Duval County and Nassau County. The second difference is youthful offender sentences extend until a defendant is 21. Once a person turns 18, they cannot be in juvenile court. So the law does allow some leniency for younger offenders – if the judge or the state decides to use it.

In the Lambert case, the state is opposing the youthful offender provision and is asking for the maximum sentence possible for what Lambert pleaded to – citing the death Lambert caused and the teen’s prior criminal record. His previous charges include an aggravated assault for allegedly threatening his sister with a knife. Lambert’s criminal record will be an issue. Most judges are not in the business of giving a series of chances. If a person has been spared a tougher sentence in the past or, for example, been sent to drug rehabilitation instead of prison, a judge may be more likely to drop the hammer. Sentencing hearings are essentially the trial in most cases, and our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorney has represented hundreds of clients in those hearings. Our Jacksonville criminal defense attorney will lay out the case and may call family members and friends as witnesses – whatever it takes to share your side of the story and hopefully achieve the best sentence possible.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Duval County Criminal Defense Lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.