Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Kentucky provides counsel to indigent youth through a statewide Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) that operates indigent defense offices in all counties. Youth accused of status offenses and delinquent acts are entitled to be represented by the DPA. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.110. The DPA has a Post-Trial Division which provides representation for clients facing sentences of confinement arising from a juvenile court order. The Post-Trial Division has a specialized Juvenile Post Disposition Branch which supports youth confined in both residential treatment facilities and detention centers with representation at resentencing hearings, assistance with securing appropriate aftercare, aid for youth victims of human trafficking, and representation in appeals.

The DPA must develop and promulgate “standards and regulations, rules, and procedures for administration of the defense of indigent defendants,” but Kentucky has no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys representing youth in delinquency proceedings. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.030(4). The DPA has published a juvenile advocacy manual.

In Kentucky, the Chief District Judge may establish a Juvenile Court Advisory board. This board must visit each juvenile facility in the county and provide the court with a report on the conditions of the facilities. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 605.140.

Court Rules

Kentucky has juvenile court rules that apply to certain offenses. With a few exceptions, including school, tobacco and alcohol-related offenses, the Rules of Criminal Procedure apply to juvenile delinquency proceedings. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 610.080(2), 610.010(2); Juv. Ct. R. Proc. & Prac., r. 1.C.  The Juvenile Court Rules of Procedure and Practice apply to youth considered status offenders, youthful offenders, and public offenders. Juv. Ct. R. Proc. & Prac., r. 1.B.

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 Kentucky, a youth’s right to counsel is governed by both juvenile code statutes and Department of Public Advocacy statutes. When read together, the statutes provide youth with a right to counsel in delinquency and status proceedings “at all stages of the matter beginning with the earliest time when a person providing [their] own counsel would be entitled to be represented by an attorney.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.110(2)(a). The statutes further imply youth have a right to counsel during interrogation. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 31.110(1), 610.030(4)(b). The statutes specifically delineate a right to counsel during:

When a youth appears in court, the court shall explain to the youth and their parents, guardian, or custodian their respective rights to counsel and, if the youth and their parents, guardian, or custodian are unable to obtain counsel, shall appoint counsel for the youth and may appoint counsel for the parents, guardian, or custodian as provided by law. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.060(1)(a).

For youth in post-disposition actions, if the court and DPA finds that a “reasonable person with adequate means” would not be willing to bring the action at their own expense, the youth no longer has the right to representation. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.110(2)(c).

A youth maintains the right to counsel in subsequent proceedings even if they previously retained counsel at their own expense or waived counsel at an earlier stage. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.110(3).

Determination of Indigence

Kentucky has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. A determination of indigence is to be made “no later than [the] first appearance in court” and then at every step in the proceedings. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.120(1)(a), (b). At arraignment and at each stage of the proceedings, “the court shall conduct a nonadversarial hearing to determine whether a person who has requested a public defender is able to pay a partial fee for legal representation, the other necessary services and facilities of representation, and court costs.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.211(1).

When an unemancipated minor requests counsel, the court considers the custodial parent’s or guardian’s ability to pay. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 31.120, 31.125. Youth and their parent or guardian must complete an affidavit of indigency to determine eligibility as a “needy person.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.120(3). In its determination of “inability to pay” for counsel, the court uses the same indigency standards as if the parent were a criminal defendant and factors considers  such as:

The court may order payment of the youth’s legal expenses by any custodial parent who is not indigent. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 31.125(2), 405.027, 610.060(4). If a youth is in public custody, the parents will not be ordered to pay for the youth’s defense. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.125(3)(b). Parental ability to pay is disregarded if a parent is the victim of the alleged criminal act or the complaining witness against the youth. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.125(4). Regardless of parental ability to pay, the youth must have a lawyer from the time that the right to counsel attaches until a determination of indigency is made. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.125(5).

Waiver of Counsel

In Kentucky, a youth may waive their right to counsel in writing or by the record. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.140. For youth, the court must “(1) conduct a hearing about the child’s waiver of counsel and (2) make specific findings of fact that the child knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived [their] right to counsel.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.060(2). During the waiver hearing, the court will consider the person’s age, education, English language proficiency, and the complexity of the alleged crime. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31.140.

A youth’s rights cannot be waived by the youth’s parents, guardian, or person exercising custodial control. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann § 610.060(1)(e). A youth may not waive counsel for an adjudication, plea, or admission for a felony, a sex offense, or any offense “for which the court intends to impose detention or commitment as a disposition.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.060(2)(a).

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 Kentucky, a status offender must have a detention hearing within 24 hours of being detained, excluding weekends and holidays. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.265(1). Youth accused of committing a delinquent offense must have a hearing within 48 hours of detention, excluding weekends and holidays. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.265(1). The youth’s “parents, person exercising custodial control or supervision or other responsible adult shall have a right to attend the hearing if such attendance will not unnecessarily delay the hearing.” Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.290(2).

Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 610.010, 610.265, 610.280, 610.290, 610.295, 630.010, 630.040, 630.080, 15A.210, and in Ky. R. Crim. Pro., r. 3.05, 3.14.

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. Kentucky statutes list several post-disposition proceedings at which youth have a right to counsel.

In Kentucky, youth have a right to counsel in the following post-disposition proceedings:

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 Kentucky:

If the youth is declared a juvenile sex offender and receiving proscribed treatment, the juvenile court may retain jurisdiction over the youth until they complete the treatment, but treatment must end before the youth turns 21. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 635.515(1). Likewise, the court may authorize an extension of a youth’s commitment up to the age of 21 for the purpose of permitting the Department of Juvenile Justice or the cabinet to assist the youth in establishing independent living arrangements. Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 610.110(6).

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Kentucky has two 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 Kentucky Assessment was completed in 2002.

Current through July 2018.