Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System
Alaska provides counsel to indigent youth through a statewide Public Defender Agency, whose mandate includes juvenile delinquency cases. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.85.100(a). The public defender agency is state funded. The public defender may form contracts with private attorneys to provide additional representation. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.85.130. Public defenders representing youth who have committed municipal offenses deemed “serious crimes” are paid by the municipality. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.85.155(a).
Alaska has no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys representing youth in delinquency proceedings.
In Alaska, youth have a right to a trial by jury in adjudicatory hearings, if requested at least 20 days before trial. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 21(a).
Juvenile Court Rules
In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. These are often promulgated at the state level, and may or may not be supplemented by local court rules. Alaska’s juvenile court rules are called the Delinquency Rules.
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 Alaska, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel:
- In all proceedings initiated under a petition for delinquency, Alaska Stat. Ann. 47.12.090(a);
- At detention hearings, Alaska Stat. Ann. 47.12.250(c);
- Application for post-conviction relief, Alaska Stat. Ann. 18.85.100(c);
- At probation revocation hearings, Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 24(c);
- If a prosecuting attorney or law enforcement officer asks the court to appoint counsel “and the court finds that the provision of representation is necessary in the interests of justice.” Alaska Stat. Ann. 18.85.100(d).
At the first hearing, the court must inform the youth of his or her right to be represented by counsel at all subsequent stages of the proceedings. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 16(a).
Determination of Indigence
Alaska’s juvenile delinquency rule on right to counsel says the Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding indigence apply to delinquency proceedings. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 16(b). “A defendant is eligible for court-appointed counsel if the court finds that the total financial resources available to the defendant are not sufficient to pay allowable household expenses and the likely cost of private representation through trial.” Alaska R. Crim. P. 39.1(b)(1).
In determining indigence, the judge considers factors such as income, property owned, debts, and dependents. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.85.120(b). A person is indigent if he or she “is unable to provide for payment without undue hardship.” Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.85.100(b). Indigence is also defined as a person who lacks the resources to pay for legal services without depriving themselves or dependents of food, shelter, or clothing. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 18.85.170(4). The determination of indigence must be made as soon as practicable, but not later than 60 days after an action commences. Alaska R. Admin. 10(a).
“If the defendant is a minor . . . the court shall consider the resources of both the defendant and the defendant’s parents, unless the parents were victims of the alleged offense or the court finds other good cause to treat their resources as being unavailable to the defendant.” Alaska R. Crim. P. 39.1(c)(2). The court may order a parent to contribute an amount consistent with his or her financial ability to pay for the youth’s attorney. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 16(b).
Waiver of Counsel
Alaska allows a youth to make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel if a parent or guardian with whom the youth resides or resided before the filing of the petition concurs with the waiver. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 16(c); Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.090(a). However, if the youth allegedly “committed an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult, waiver of counsel may not be accepted unless the court is satisfied that the minor has consulted with an attorney before the waiver of counsel.” Id.
When and how the court may decide to detain a youth or otherwise place restrictions on the youth’s freedom is defined by statute and court rules. In Alaska, a probable cause hearing must occur “immediately, and in no event more than 48 hours” of detention, unless the youth is being held securely in a correctional facility that houses adult prisoners, at which point the hearing must occur within 24 hours of detention. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.250(c). Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Alaska Stat. §§ 47.12.240 and 47.12.250, and in Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 12-13.
The U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court case law are also sources of due process rights beyond local and state statutes and provisions. NJDC’s Detention Page provides more information about detaining youth.
The legal needs of youth 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. In Alaska, youth have the right to appointed counsel at the Probation Revocation hearing. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 24(c). Youth are also entitled to counsel at hearings to extend disposition; however, they are not entitled to counsel at annual reviews of disposition or subsequent hearings. Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 25. In Alaska, youth have an appeals process under Alaska R. App. P. 219, and if the youth had counsel in the adjudication hearing, then the youth may have the same counsel in the appeals process. Alaska R. App. P. 103(c).
NJDC’s Post-Disposition Page has more information on this topic from a national perspective.
Ages of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
The age of a youth who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts is defined by state law. In Alaska:
- No statute specifies the youngest age at which youth can be adjudicated delinquent;
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses allegedly committed prior to the youth’s 18th birthday; after age 18, the youth is charged in adult court. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.020.
- A disposition order can retain jurisdiction over youth until age 19, provided that the offense allegedly committed occurred before the youth turned 18. Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.160.
Youth in Adult Court
Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Alaska has two ways that youth can be prosecuted as adults:
- Discretionary judicial waiver: The juvenile court has original jurisdiction over these cases, but the Department of Health and Social Services or the youth may file a petition requesting the court to waive jurisdiction if the youth “probably cannot be rehabilitated by treatment . . . before reaching 20 years of age.” Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.100(b); Alaska Ct. Delinq. R. 20. The court must conduct a hearing and consider statutorily listed factors to determine whether to waive jurisdiction. Id. Waiver closes the juvenile court case and permits the youth to be prosecuted as an adult. Id. For some felonies, there is a presumption that the youth should be waived to adult court, and for other offenses there is a presumption that the youth should remain in juvenile court. Id.
- Statutory exclusion: Alaska law specifies certain offenses committed by a youth aged 16 or older that require the youth to be “charged, held, released on bail, prosecuted, sentenced, and incarcerated in the same manner as an adult.” Alaska Stat. Ann. § 47.12.030.
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 Alaska. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this state, please contact us.