Juvenile Waiver of Counsel
Disturbingly large numbers of youth waive their right to counsel without a full understanding of the long and short term consequences of this action. As Standard 10.4 of the National Juvenile Defense Standards points out, “[t]he problem with juvenile waiver of counsel is clear: children require the advice and assistance of counsel to make decisions with lifelong consequences in the highly charged venue of a juvenile court proceeding.” Many things—such as immaturity, anxiety, and overt pressure from judges, parents, or prosecutors—can make unrepresented children feel compelled to resolve their cases quickly. This may result in entering a plea or making admissions without a full understanding of the consequences of such an action.
In order to ensure a child’s due process rights are protected, NJDC believes that no child should be allowed to waive his or her constitutional right to counsel without first having a meaningful and private consultation with a juvenile defender who understands the particularities and consequences of a juvenile court adjudication. The U.S. Department of Justice agrees, and outlined its view – in a Statement of Interest in N.P. v. Georgia, filed on March 13, 2015 – that children cannot knowingly and intelligently waive their right to counsel without first having a meaningful opportunity to consult with a lawyer .
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