Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Indiana provides counsel to indigent youth through a county-based system that is mostly locally funded. Larger counties are required to have an oversight public defender board and an appointed chief defender. Ind. Code Ann. §§ 33-40-7-1, 33-40-7-6. Counties may also provide indigent defense services through panels of assigned counsel or through contract arrangements entered into by the county public defender or by a criminal court. Ind. Code Ann. §§ 33-40-7-8, 33-40-7-9, 33-40-8-1.

Indiana has a statewide Public Defender Commission that sets standards for indigent defense, including delinquency representation. Ind. Code Ann. § 33-40-5-4(2), (3). This commission is also authorized to reimburse counties that meet the standards for up to 40% of the defense costs of non-capital cases except misdemeanors. Ind. Code. Ann. § 33-40-6-5(a)(2). The Commission is required to “adopt guidelines and standards for indigent defense services” for counties reimbursed by the Commission. Ind. Code Ann. § 33-40-5-4(2). Currently, 61 out of 92 counties are eligible for reimbursement in non-capital cases. The Standards for Indigent Defense in Non-Capital Cases mention experience prerequisites for the appointment of counsel to juvenile delinquency cases; however, these standards only apply to counties that are reimbursed by the Indiana Public Defender Commission. Standards for Indigent Defense Services in Non-Capital Cases § E(4): Appointment of Counsel, Juvenile Delinquency (Public Defender Comm’n). Indiana does not require attorneys to have any training specific to juvenile defense, however, the standards  do require all indigent defense counsel to receive training and professional development. Standards for Indigent Defense Services in Non-Capital Cases § M: Training and Professional Development (Public Defender Comm’n)

The Public Defender of Indiana is a state-funded judicial agency that has statutory authority for post-conviction representation (equivalent to state habeas petitions) in adult and juvenile cases.

The Indiana Public Defender Council is a state-established resource center for attorneys to improve the quality of indigent defense representation through research and practice materials. Ind. Code Ann. §§ 33-40-4-2, 33-40-4-5. The council also houses the Juvenile Defense Project, which aims to improve both access to and quality of youth representation.

Court Rules

In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. Indiana does not have specific juvenile court rules at the statewide level, but the Indiana Rules of Court (such as the Rules of Trial Procedure) may apply in juvenile court proceedings. Some rules are specifically applicable only to juvenile proceedings. Wherever there are gaps in the juvenile law, the procedures governing criminal trials apply in juvenile delinquency cases. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-32-1-1. In addition, local courts may have rules that apply to juvenile courts in that county or judicial district.

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 on or delineating that right.

In Indiana, a youth charged with a delinquent act is “entitled to be represented by counsel.” Ind. Code Ann. §§ 31-32-4-1, 31-32-2-2. At intake, the intake officer “shall” inform the youth that they have “a right to consult with an attorney before the child talks with the intake officer,” a right to stop at any time and consult with an attorney,” and a right to stop talking with the intake officer at any time.” Ind. Code Ann. § 31-37-8-4(6)-(8). At the detention hearing or the initial hearing, or at any earlier time, the court “shall” appoint counsel for a youth if the youth is not yet represented and has not waived their right to counsel. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-32-4-2. At the detention hearing, the court “shall” notify the youth and the youth’s parent, guardian, or custodian of the youth’s right to counsel. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-37-6-5. Similarly, at the initial hearing the court “shall” inform the youth (and youth’s custodian, if present) of their right to counsel. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-37-12-5(2)(A).

Determination of Indigence

Indigence determination is not required because appointment of counsel is automatic for unrepresented youth in delinquency proceedings, provided the youth has not waived counsel. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-32-4-2(a).

If the court, at any time during the proceedings, determines that a youth’s parent is able to pay for the youth’s attorney, the cost of counsel “shall” be assessed against the parent. Ind. Code Ann. § 33-40-3-6.

Waiver of Counsel

For youth in Indiana, the right to counsel “may be waived only:

Where counsel has been appointed for the youth because placement or detention is a possibility, any waiver of the right to counsel “shall be made in open court, on the record and confirmed in writing, and in the presence of the [youth] ’s attorney.” Ind. R. Crim. Pro. 25(C). The [youth] may withdraw the waiver at any stage of the proceeding, at which point the court must appoint counsel. Ind. R. Crim. Pro. 25(D).

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 Indiana, a detention hearing “shall” be held no later than 48 hours after being taken into custody, excluding weekends and court holidays. Ind. Code Ann. § 31-37-6-2.

Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Ind. Code Ann. §§ 31-37-5-2 to 31-37-5–6, 31-37-6-1 to -10, 31-37-7-1 to -4, 31-37-10-6, 31-37-11-1 to 31-37-11-1-3, and 31-37-11-7.

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 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. Indiana statutes list no post-disposition proceedings at which youth have a right to counsel.

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 Indiana:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Indiana has four 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.

The Indiana Assessment was completed in 2006.


Current through July 2018.