U.S. Virgin Islands
Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System
The U.S. Virgin Islands provides counsel to indigent youth through the Office of the Territorial Public Defender (OTPD). 5 V.I.C. § 3524. The OTPD is a semi-autonomous agency of the judicial branch governed by the Public Defender Administration Board. 5 V.I.C. § 3520. The OTPD has a district office on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix. The OTPD is funded by the Virgin Islands’ Director of the Office of Management and Budget. 5 V.I.C. § 3521(b)(2).
The U.S. Virgin Islands have no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys representing youth in delinquency proceedings.
In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. These are often promulgated at the state level, but may also be passed at the local court level instead of or in addition to statewide rules. The U.S. Virgin Islands’ delinquency proceedings are governed by the Rules Governing the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, Procedure in Juvenile Causes. The Family Division Rules of Procedure Generally also apply to juvenile cases.
Right to Counsel
Beyond the right to counsel in juvenile court guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution and In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), states often have state constitution or statutory provisions further expanding upon or delineating that right.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, a youth “alleged to be delinquent, or in the situation where a child is alleged to be a person in need of supervision and involuntary detention may result, is entitled to be represented by counsel.” 5 V.I.C. § 2505(a). The court must inform parties of their right to counsel. 5 V.I.C. § 2517(b); Sup. Ct. R. 84. “In its discretion, the court may appoint counsel for the child over the objection of the child, his parent, or other person responsible for his care.” 5 V.I.C. § 2505(a).
Youth specifically have the right to counsel at the following stages of delinquency proceedings:
- Detention hearing, 5 V.I.C. § 2516(c);
- Adjudication, 5 V.I.C. § 2517(b);
- Revocation of probation hearing, 5 V.I.C. § 2525(e).
Determination of Indigence
The U.S. Virgin Islands have no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. “If the child and his parent, or other person responsible for his care is financially unable to obtain adequate representation, the child shall be entitled to have counsel appointed for him in accordance with the rules established by the court.” 5 V.I.C. § 2505(a). The Superior Court determines whether a youth qualifies for a public defender after reviewing a financial statement submitted by the youth or his parent, guardian, or custodian. 5 V.I.C. § 3527. “The financial statement shall contain a full disclosure of all assets, liabilities, current income, dependents and such other information as the court may require….”5 V.I.C. § 3527.
Waiver of Counsel
The U.S. Virgin Islands do not have a specific juvenile statute, rule, or case law addressing a juvenile’s waiver of counsel.
When and how the court may decide to detain a child or otherwise place restrictions on the child’s freedom is defined by statute and court rules. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, a detention hearing must occur within 48 hours of the child being detained, excluding Sundays. 5 V.I.C. § 2516(a). Provisions for the detention of juveniles are found in 5 V.I.C. §§ 2514, 2515, 2516 and Sup. Ct. R. 92.
NJDC’s Detention Page provides more information about detaining youth.
The legal needs of children in the delinquency system rarely end at disposition, and states vary in the way they provide a right to representation on these post-disposition issues. The U.S. Virgin Islands statutes list one post-disposition proceeding at which youth have a right to counsel.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, youth have a right to counsel in the following post-disposition proceeding:
- Revocation of probation hearing, 5 V.I.C. § 2525(e).
NJDC’s Post-Disposition Page has more information on this topic from a national perspective.
Ages of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
The age of a child who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts is defined by state law. In the U.S. Virgin Islands:
- No statute specifies the youngest age at which a juvenile can be adjudicated delinquent;
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a child’s 18th birthday; after age 18, the youth is charged in adult court, 5 V.I.C. § 2502;
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over youth who commit traffic offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a child’s 16th birthday; after age 16, the youth is charged in adult court, 4 V.I.C. § 172(a)(4).
Youth in Adult Court
Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. The U.S. Virgin Islands have two ways that juveniles can be prosecuted as adults:
- Discretionary Transfer: Children 14 and older may be transferred after a hearing for any crime.
- Mandatory Transfer: Children 14 and over must be transferred following a determination of probable cause when they have been twice previously adjudicated for felonies; or the offense now is a violent crime as defined in statute and the child has been once previously adjudicated for a felony; or the offense now is a crime and previously the child had been adjudicated delinquent for a statutorily-defined violent crime; or the child has committed a serious violent offense as defined in statute. 5 V.I.C. § 2508.
NJDC conducts statewide assessments of access to counsel and the quality of juvenile defense representation in delinquency proceedings around the country. These assessments provide a state with baseline information about the nature and efficacy of its juvenile indigent defense structures, highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the indigent juvenile defense system, and provide tailored recommendations that address each state’s distinctive characteristics to help decision-makers focus on key trouble spots and highlight best practices. The NJDC State Assessment Page provides more information about state assessments.
NJDC has not yet conducted an assessment of the juvenile indigent defense system in the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this jurisdiction, please contact us.