Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Missouri provides counsel to indigent youth through the statewide Missouri State Public Defender System, a judicial branch agency with trial, appellate and capital divisions, and district offices throughout Missouri. Defenders can be either staff attorneys in the state defender system or assigned attorneys serving on a case by case basis. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.011(4).

The seven-member Public Defender Commission selects the director of the Office of State Public Defender, deputy directors, and public defenders, and establishes procedures, receives client complaints, monitors performance, reviews the budget, approves payment for assigned counsel, and “make[s] any rules needed for the administration of the state public defender system.” Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 600.015; 600.017. Indigent defense is 100% state-funded. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.040(2).

The state public defender is tasked with establishing training courses and supervising the training of all public defenders. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.042(1)(7). Missouri has no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys representing youth in delinquency proceedings.

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. Missouri’s juvenile court rules are called the Missouri Rules of Practice and Procedure in 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 on or delineating that right.

In Missouri, youth are entitled to counsel at “all stages of the proceedings, including appeal, unless relieved by the court for good cause shown. If no appeal is taken, services of counsel are terminated following the entry of an order of disposition.” Mo. Ann. Stat. § 211.211(6); see also Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 115.01(a). In addition, “the court shall appoint counsel for the [youth] when necessary to assure a full and fair hearing” in any juvenile court proceedings. Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 115.02(a). The judge is to ascertain whether a youth has been informed of their right to counsel, and if the youth appears without counsel, whether “the [youth] has waived the right to counsel, whether the [youth] objects to proceeding without counsel; [and whether] the [youth’s] parents, guardian or custodian have been informed of the right to counsel.” Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 128.02(a)(2)-(3). “Appointed counsel shall be allowed a reasonable time in which to prepare to represent the [youth].” Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 115.02(e).

The Missouri Rules of Practice and Procedure in Juvenile Courts specifically list the following stages of the proceedings in which youth have a right to counsel:

A defender who takes a case must stay on for every stage of the proceeding, including appeal, until the court relieves his duties or he is permitted to withdraw. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.044.

Determination of Indigence

Missouri has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. The court shall appoint counsel for any financially eligible youth who requests an attorney. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 211.211(2). In addition, it appears that regardless of financial status, the court can appoint counsel “when necessary to assure a full and fair hearing.” Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 115.02. If the court appoints counsel for a youth, the court can assess reasonable fees against the parents, guardian or custodian of the youth. Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 115.02(f).

The determination of indigency is made by the public defender, based on an affidavit of indigence that the defendant must file with the court. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.086(3). However, either party may ask the court to determine whether or not the defendant is indigent. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.086(3). Indigence is based on a person’s ability to make bond, their income, and the number of dependents for whom he or she is responsible. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 600.086(1).

Waiver of Counsel

A youth may waive their right to counsel in Missouri if the court approves, as long as such right is “knowingly and intelligently waived.” In re D.J.M., 259 S.W.3d 533, 536 (Mo. 2008); see also Mo. Ann. Stat. § 211.211(8). A youth’s waiver of counsel “may be withdrawn at any stage of the proceeding, in which event the court shall appoint counsel for the child.” Mo. Ann. Stat. § 211.211(9).

Detention Provisions

When and how the court may decide to detain a child or otherwise place restrictions on the child’s freedom is defined by statute and court rules. In Missouri, a detention hearing must occur within 24 hours of the child being detained, excluding weekends and holidays. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 211.063(1). Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 211.061 and 211.063, and in Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 127.01 to 127.11.

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. Missouri statutes list one post-disposition proceeding at which youth have a right to counsel.

In Missouri, 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 Missouri:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Missouri 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 Missouri Assessment was completed in 2013.

Current through July 2018.