Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System
American Samoa has a public defender office, which can represent indigent youth in delinquency proceedings. American Samoa has no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys representing youth in delinquency proceedings. American Samoa youth have a right to a trial by jury at adjudication if charged with committing an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult. The right is considered waived if not requested. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0123.
In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. American Samoa does not have specific juvenile court rules, but rules for other proceedings (such as the Rules of Criminal Procedure) may apply in juvenile court. In addition, local courts may have rules that apply to juvenile courts in that jurisdiction.
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 a state constitution or statutory provisions further expanding upon or delineating that right.
In American Samoa, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel at every stage of proceedings alleging a youth is delinquent or in need of supervision. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0120(a). Notice of the right to counsel is provided in a summons for a hearing on a petition. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0311.
“The Court may appoint counsel without a request if it considers representation by counsel necessary to protect the interests of the child or of other parties.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0120(c). Furthermore, “[i]f the [youth] and [their] parents, guardian, or other legal custodian were not represented by counsel at [their] first appearance, the court shall inform them at the conclusion of the proceedings that they have the right to file a motion for a new trial and that if the motion is denied, they have the right to appeal.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0121. Youth are specifically entitled to counsel at the following stages:
- Transfer/certification hearings, Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0341(a).
- Violation of probation hearings, Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0363(c)(2).
Determination of Indigence
American Samoa has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. “If the [youth] or [their] parents, guardian, or other legal custodian requests an attorney and is found to be without sufficient financial means, counsel shall be appointed by the Court.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0120(b).
Waiver of Counsel
There are no statutes specifically addressing a youth’s waiver of counsel.
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 American Samoa, a detention hearing must occur within 48 hours of the youth being detained, excluding weekends and court holidays, unless waived in writing by the youth’s attorney, parent, guardian, or an adult person with whom the youth has been residing. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0210(b). Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Am. Samoa Code Ann. §§ 45.0201-45.0210 and 45.1004.
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 young people 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. American Samoa statutes list one post-disposition proceeding at which youth have a right to counsel.
In American Samoa, youth have a right to counsel in the following post-disposition proceeding:
- Violation of probation hearing, Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0363(c)(2).
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 American Samoa:
- The youngest age at which a young person can be adjudicated delinquent is 10. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0103(9)(A);
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses allegedly committed prior to a youth’s 18th birthday; after age 18, the youth is charged in adult court, Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0103(2);
- Juvenile court can “may commit a person 18 years of age or older to the Bureau if [they are] adjudicated delinquent for an act committed prior to [their] 18th birthday or upon revocation of probation.” Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0350(2).
- Juvenile court retains jurisdiction over a youth until age 21, unless jurisdiction is terminated early by a court order. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0364.
Youth in Adult Court
Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. American Samoa has three ways that youth can be prosecuted as adults:
- Discretionary Transfer: If the youth is at least 14 years old and has allegedly committed an offense that would constitute a felony if committed by an adult, then the prosecutor can file the petition in adult court or can request a transfer hearing. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0115(c)(1); Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0333(2).
- Statutory Exclusion: In the following circumstances, youth are not considered delinquent children for the purposes of juvenile court jurisdiction:
- If the youth is at least 14 years old and has allegedly committed a crime of violence, Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0103(9)(B)(I); Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0115(c)(2)(A).
- If the youth is at least 16 years old, has allegedly committed an offense that if committed by an adult would receive the maximum punishment, and the youth has been previously adjudicated within the last two years for what would constitute a felony, Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0103(9)(B)(II); Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0115(c)(2)(B).
- If the youth was previously transferred to adult court for a felony, then any subsequent felony allegedly committed will be prosecuted in adult court. Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0103(9)(B)(III); Am. Samoa Code Ann. § 45.0115(c)(2)(C).
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 American Samoa. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this jurisdiction, please contact us.