Michigan Assessment

Overdue for Justice: An Assessment of Access to and Quality of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Michigan

Released on June 29, 2020, the Michigan Assessment is based on interviews, court observations, and research conducted by a team of experts who analyzed Michigan’s juvenile defense systems and delinquency courts over the course of a year.

The assessment found that while Michigan is working to improve its adult criminal defense system, “juvenile defense practices are not subject to any state standards, receive no state funding, and have no consistent monitoring or enforcement in place to ensure youth receive effective counsel at all critical stages.”

Some of the key findings of the assessment include:

  • Michigan has no state-level system of oversight or enforcement mechanisms to ensure that county based juvenile defense delivery systems provide effective trial-level or post-disposition services, as constitutionally required.
  • The absence of state funding for juvenile defense has perpetuated local juvenile defense systems in which attorneys frequently lack the training, resources, and time necessary to provide the quality of defense services youth deserve. As a result, young people’s constitutional rights are often inadequately protected, their voices are not heard, and they may miss opportunities to be connected to successful pathways forward.
  • Youth and families are too often saddled with fees, fines, and costs assessed by juvenile courts, including attorney fees. There is little advocacy by lawyers or others to limit these costs and to mitigate the hardships families face as a result.
  • Requiring youth and parents to reimburse counties for the cost of constitutionally required defense counsel creates a barrier to the appointment and/or scope of representation.
  • Michigan juvenile courts show a strong commitment to ensuring that youth are provided with representation at all critical stages, but some jurisdictions can improve to guarantee the early appointment of counsel, restrict youth waiver of counsel, and require counsel to remain on a case until all orders of the court are terminated.

Among other recommendations, the report encourages Michigan to:

  • Create a system of state oversight of juvenile defense delivery systems to ensure youth have access to effective representation at all critical stages.
  • Establish mandatory state standards for trial-level juvenile defense delivery systems that are juvenile-specific and provide sufficient independence from the judiciary.
  • Expand the role of the State Appellate Defender Office to include appeals of juvenile delinquency and status offender cases, juvenile-specific training, and other support to trial-level delinquency defenders.
  • Ensure adequate funding to support a system of juvenile defense services that provides effective assistance of counsel.
  • Eliminate juvenile court-related fees, fines, and costs imposed on youth and families.

Read the press release.

Fees & Costs in Michigan’s Juvenile Courts Create Barriers to Young People’s Access to Counsel and Future Opportunities