Juvenile Defense Standards
Specialization and high-quality training in juvenile defense cannot flourish without concerted policy action aimed at counteracting the pervasive misconception among many justice stakeholders that juvenile court is of little importance and a training ground in which young lawyers “learn” on the backs of children before moving on to representing adults. Among juvenile defense reformers, there is a consensus that juvenile-specific practice standards to guide and support the field are critical. Unfortunately, these exist in only a minority of jurisdictions. It is important for juvenile defense reformers, and the larger criminal defense community, to convene groups to promulgate and adopt standards tailored for practice at the state level. NJDC encourages state and local jurisdictions to use the National Juvenile Defense Standards as a guide. NJDC is also committed to providing whatever technical assistance or advice jurisdictions may want in the process of drafting state-based standards.
Standards for juvenile defenders are only one part of the solution, however. Juvenile-specific standards should also be developed for judges, prosecutors, and probation officers, as each stakeholder group benefit from developing specialized standards of practice to guide and support juvenile justice—and our nation’s children. Efforts to professionalize and advance the field overall ultimately will benefit the young people the system aims to serve.
Attorney General of the United States, in the Statement of Interest issued in N.P. v. State of Georgia, (Mar. 15, 2015), has taken an exceedingly clear stance on how access to counsel for children, requires access to defense counsel that is qualified to represent children. The nation’s top law enforcement official reasoned, “Indeed, the unique qualities of youth demand special training, experience and skill for their advocates.” The path toward best practices in juvenile defense requires fidelity to the principles of due process and the role of counsel as expressed in the Statement of Interest in N.P. v. Georgia, as well as the white paper on Role of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Delinquency Court, and the National Juvenile Defense Standards. The principles set forth in these documents must be implemented through ongoing specialized training and policy initiatives that foster high quality juvenile defense.
Over 20 jurisdictions that currently have some level of professional standards specific to defense attorneys representing juvenile clients are:
- California: The State Legislature passed AB 703, which outlines minimum training requirements for juvenile defense attorneys and recognizes the specialization of the field of juvenile defense. The bill makes clear the role of juvenile defenders and their obligation to provide effective, competent, diligent, and conscientious advocacy of the client’s expressed interests.
- Colorado: The Colorado Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Council passed a resolution in 2013 endorsing specialization in juvenile court practice. Under this resolution, the Advisory Council supports the establishment of standards of practice for juvenile defense.
- Connecticut: The Division of Public Defender Services released Performance Guidelines for Counsel in Juvenile Matters, intended to serve as a guide for the representation of juvenile clients in delinquency proceedings. These advisory guidelines were designed for counsel to evaluate and improve their own performance and cover a variety of issues, including role of counsel, plea negotiations, trial preparation, disposition, and appeal.
- District of Columbia: The Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Family Court, released Attorney Practice Standards for Representing Juveniles Charged with Delinquency or as Persons in Need of Supervision, which are intended to define the role of counsel in delinquency and Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) proceedings. These standards are binding for panel attorneys representing indigent children in delinquency matters and cover duties, responsibilities, and objectives of counsel.
- Florida: The Florida Bar Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children released Florida Guidelines of Practice for Attorneys who Represent Children in Delinquency Proceedings, which address the specific roles and responsibilities of counsel in delinquency proceedings. These guidelines are advisory and intended to serve as a guide to assist attorneys in providing quality representation for children. They cover duties from pre-detention to post-disposition and appeal.
- Indiana: The Indiana Public Defender Commission adopted Standards for Indigent Defense Services in Non-Capital Cases, which serve as a guideline for determining county reimbursement eligibility. For juvenile criminal cases, eligible counties may receive up to 40 percent reimbursement for indigent criminal defense costs conditioned upon compliance with the Standards. The Standards set caseload caps and minimum qualifications for juvenile delinquency representation.
- Louisiana: The Louisiana Public Defender Board promulgated Trial Court Performance Standards for Attorneys Representing Children in Delinquency Proceedings, which serve to encourage juvenile defenders to perform to a high standard of representation and alert defenders of courses of action that may be necessary, advisable, or appropriate to ensure the best representation possible. These Standards, covering responsibilities over detention, adjudication, and post-adjudication stages, are further intended to evaluate the performance of juvenile defenders and assist in training and supervising attorneys.
- Maine: The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services established Standards of Practice for Attorneys Who Represent Juveniles in Juvenile Court Proceedings, which are intended to guide assigned counsel in their representation of juveniles. These Standards cover the role of counsel in juvenile court proceedings and basic competencies and duties required of defense counsel from pre-adjudication to appeal. These standards are used by the Commission in evaluating, supervising, and training assigned counsel.
- Massachusetts: The Committee for Public Counsel Services developed Performance Standards Governing Representation of Indigent Juveniles in Delinquency, Youthful Offender, and Criminal Cases, which are intended for use by the Committee to evaluate, supervise, and train assigned counsel, pursuant to statute. The Standards cover general principles of representation as well as duties of counsel starting at the stage of preliminary preparation to post-trial proceedings.
- Montana: The Public Defender Commission developed Standards for Counsel Representing Individuals Pursuant to the Montana Public Defender Act, which outline specific criteria for representing youth in youth court proceedings in Section XIII. The standards for representing youth in youth court outline training and eligibility requirements for counsel as well as counsel’s role in preparing and handling cases in youth court.
- Nebraska: The Nebraska Supreme Court Commission on Children in the Courts issued Standards for Representation of Juveniles in Law Violation and Status Offense Cases in Juvenile Court, which serve as non-binding guidelines to ensure high quality representation for all juveniles facing adjudication in juvenile court. In addition to outlining the role of juvenile defense attorneys, the Standards specify that all juvenile defense attorneys should complete a minimum of 16 hours of relevant training every two years.
- Nevada: The Nevada Supreme Court adopted the Nevada Indigent Defense Standards of Performance, which are designed to improve the quality of criminal defense representation in Nevada and provide objective guidelines for the allocation of resources for indigent defense. The performance standards set forth specific guidelines pertaining to the representation of juveniles in delinquency proceedings, outlining the role of defense counsel, necessary training and education of defense counsel, and duties starting with pretrial preparation to post-disposition advocacy.
- North Carolina: The Commission on Indigent Defense Services (IDS Commission) adopted Performance Guidelines for Appointed Counsel in Juvenile Delinquency Proceedings at the Trial Level, which identify issues that may arise at each stage of a delinquency proceeding and recommend effective approaches to resolving those issues. The Guidelines are intended to ensure high quality representation and may serve as a training tool and resource for attorneys in the field. The IDS Commission also approved Model Qualification Standards for Practice in Juvenile Delinquency Court, which outline the knowledge, training, and experience necessary for effective juvenile defense practice.
- North Dakota: The Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents created the Minimum Attorney Performance Standards: Juvenile Unruly and Delinquency Matters, which are intended to encourage a high standard of representation of juveniles in delinquency proceedings. The Commission evaluates the performance of individual attorneys in accordance to these Standards. The Standards cover training requirements as well as guidelines pertaining to the appointment of counsel, general responsibilities, preparation, and representation in proceedings ranging from the initial hearing to post-disposition.
- Ohio: The Ohio Public Defender Commission adopted the Standards of Representation of Clients in Juvenile Delinquency Cases, which are intended to provide juvenile defense attorneys with a general guide on appropriate and diligent advocacy on behalf of clients involved in delinquency proceedings. The Standards cover the role of defense counsel, necessary training, developmental issues, and advocacy in court proceedings, among other categories.
- Oregon: The Public Defense Services Commission issued Qualification Standards for Appointed Counsel, which lists the minimum training and practice requirements that appointed counsel must have before representing a juvenile client in delinquency proceedings. The Standards specify the level of experience needed as well as required knowledge of pertinent materials, case law, and statutes.
- Pennsylvania: The Juvenile Defenders Association of Pennsylvania developed non-binding Performance Guidelines for Quality and Effective Juvenile Delinquency Representation, which offers juvenile defenders, contract counsel, and assigned counsel, as well as the leadership of public defender offices with a clear set of guidelines that define evidence-based best practice standards for attorneys practicing in delinquency court. The Guidelines cover role of counsel, training, and advocacy standards from the pre-adjudicatory phase to the appellate and and post-disposition phase.
- South Carolina: The South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense promulgated Performance Standards for Indigent Defense in Juvenile Cases, which provide guidance to appointed counsel representing children and youth in delinquency matters. The Standards outline the role of counsel, lawyer-client relationship, and duties of counsel throughout the entire delinquency case.
- Texas: The Texas Bar’s Board of Directors adopted Performance Guidelines for Juvenile Representation in Delinquency Proceedings in April, 2017. “The Guidelines are intended to alert counsel to courses of action that may be necessary, advisable, or appropriate, and thereby to assist counsel in deciding upon the particular actions that must be taken in each case to provide the juvenile client the best representation possible. The Guidelines are also intended to provide a measure by which the performance of individual attorneys may be evaluated and to assist in training and supervising attorneys. Finally, the Guidelines are intended to encourage counsel to provide zealous representation even if there is a culture in counsel’s jurisdiction of providing less than zealous representation.”
- Virginia: The Virginia Indigent Defense Commission developed Standards of Practice for Indigent Defense Counsel in Non-Capital Criminal Cases at the Trial Level, which include a specific section on Standards of Practice for Juvenile Defense Counsel. The Standards are intended to provide juvenile defense attorneys with a general guide to appropriate and zealous advocacy on behalf of clients in delinquency proceedings as well as children being tried as an adult. The Standards cover the role of juvenile defense counsel, necessary training, and duties of counsel from pre-trial to post-disposition.
- Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Public Defender developed the Principles of Juvenile Defense Practice, which are best practice standards that are intended to inform and guide juvenile defense attorneys to ensure quality legal services to young clients. The Principles outline a framework for representation rooted in client-centered advocacy and provide a roadmap for counsel to navigate at every stage of juvenile delinquency practice from detention to post disposition.
(Last Updated August, 2017)