American Samoa

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.

Court Rules

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:

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.

Detention Provisions

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.

Post-Disposition Advocacy

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:

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:

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:


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.


Current through September 2018.