Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Louisiana provides counsel to indigent youth at the judicial district level. All youth are presumed to be indigent and the court will either appoint counsel or refer the youth for representation by the district public defender. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 320(A); 809(A). The Louisiana Public Defender Board, an oversight body, employs a Deputy Public Defender, who is the Director of Juvenile Defender Services. The Director of Juvenile Defender Services must:

Perform all other duties assigned by the state public defender or the board.” La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15:154(B).

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, but may also be passed at the local court level instead of or in addition to statewide rules. Louisiana’s juvenile courts are governed by the Rules for Proceedings in District Courts, Family Courts, and Juvenile Courts.

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 Louisiana, a youth’s right to counsel is governed by a variety of statutes. Under Louisiana law, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel at:

A youth must be informed of their right to be represented by counsel:

Determination of Indigence

In Louisiana, “for purposes of the appointment of counsel, children are presumed to be indigent.” La. Child. Code Ann. art. 320(A). However, parents may be required to pay for part or all of counsel’s services for their children accused of delinquent acts, unless the parents are indigent. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 848; 321(E). A determination of indigency may be made by the court at any stage of the proceedings. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 320(B). The court will determine indigency through a hearing, where the judge will consider any income, property owned, outstanding obligations, and the number and ages of dependents. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 848, 320(C)(1).

All youth accused of delinquency and their parents must be served with the right to counsel form with the petition. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 847.  The form explains that if they cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one for the child, and if the parents can afford a lawyer but do not hire one, the court may appoint one for the child and require the parents to pay for it. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 848.

Waiver of Counsel

If “the interests of the child and the adult consulting with the child conflict,” the court must appoint counsel for the child. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 810(C). The court must also appoint counsel whenever it is “otherwise required in the interest of justice.” La. Child. Code Ann. art. 810(C)

A youth may waive their right to counsel:

(1) After “consultation with an attorney, parent, or caretaker;”
(2) If “both the child and the adult consulting with the child . . . have been instructed by the court about the child’s rights and the possible consequences of waiver;” and
(3) If “the child is competent and is knowingly and voluntarily waiving [their] right to counsel.” La. Child. Code Ann. art. 810 (A).

A youth cannot waive their right to counsel:

“(1) In proceedings in which it has been recommended to the court that the child be placed in a mental hospital, psychiatric unit, or substance abuse facility, nor in proceedings to modify said dispositions;
(2) In proceedings in which [they are] charged with a felony-grade delinquent act; or
(3) In probation or parole revocation proceedings.” La. Child. Code Ann. art. 810(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 Louisiana, when a youth is taken into custody, it is not considered an arrest. La. Child. Code Ann. art 812.

In Louisiana, a youth must be taken to a juvenile detention center if they have been taken into custody for a felony-grade delinquent act or for a misdemeanor-grade delinquent act based upon an offense against the person. La. Child. Code Ann. art 815(B). For any other misdemeanor-grade delinquent act, a youth may be subject to custody in juvenile detention or may be placed in a shelter care facility. La. Child. Code Ann. art 815(C). However, if a youth is under the age of thirteen, the youth may not be detained in a juvenile detention center for a misdemeanor-grade delinquent act. La. Child. Code Ann. art 815(F).

A judge must review an officer’s statement on probable cause within 48 hours of the youth being taken into custody. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 814(D). If the youth is not released, a continued custody hearing must occur within three days of the youth entering the detention center. La. Child. Code Ann. art. 819. In Louisiana, the court may determine a youth requires security, in the form of bail, to be released from detention. La. Child. Code Ann. art 823, 824, 825. Certain youth charged with a delinquent act that would be considered a capital offense will not be admitted to bail. La. Child. Code Ann. art 823.

Provisions for the detention of youth are found in La. Child. Code Ann. art. 306, 812, 813, 814, 815, 817, 819, 820 821, 822, and 886.

Provisions for bail and conditions of release are found in Louisiana statute. La. Child. Code Ann. art 823, 824, 825, 826, 827, 828, 829, 830, 831.

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 children 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 Louisiana, 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 child who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts is defined by state law. In Louisiana:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Louisiana 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.

The Louisiana Assessment was completed in 2001.

Current through July 2018.