Northern Mariana Islands
Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System
The Northern Mariana Islands provide counsel to indigent youth through the Office of the Public Defender of the Northern Mariana Islands. The public defender office has assigned specific juvenile defenders to handle 100 percent of juvenile cases referred to them by the court.
The Northern Mariana Islands have no statutorily required or recommended training requirements or standards for attorneys representing youth in delinquency proceedings.
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. The Northern Mariana Islands’ juvenile court rules are called the Rules of Juvenile Delinquency Procedure.
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 the Northern Mariana Islands, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel in juvenile proceedings. Youth have the same right to counsel that they would have in criminal proceedings and the courts are responsible for advising the youth of that right if they are to appear without counsel. “The services of the Public Defender or his representatives shall be requested by the court as a routine matter if the child so desires in all situations where such services are regularly available to adults accused in criminal cases.” N. Mar. I. R. Juv. Del. P. 5(1). As early as possible in the proceedings, and before a hearing on the merits of the petition, the youth is to be notified of their right to counsel. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5135. The court must appoint counsel when the youth is indigent and the youth or their parents appear to desire counsel. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5135.
Determination of Indigence
Northern Mariana Islands has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. If a young person of their parents are financially unable to pay for counsel, the court shall appoint counsel. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5135. Regulations on eligibility for a public defender in juvenile cases indicate that the income of both parents will be considered when determining a child’s eligibility for free legal counsel.
A youth shall be presumptively eligible if income is equal to or below 125 percent of the U.S. Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines for Hawaii but the court may consider other factors, such as real or personal property owned, the age of dependents, outstanding debts or lifestyle. N. Mar. I. Sup. Ct. R. 80(d)(2).
The judge before whom the youth appears has sole discretion to determine eligibility for a court-appointed attorney. 1 N. Mar. I. Code § 2204. If a child is denied representation by the public defender based on finances, the child and family must submit a written statement detailing all vital information to the presiding judge who upon receipt of the statement must issue an opinion explaining the reason for the denial. 1 N. Mar. I. Code §§ 2203; 2204. See Regulations on Eligibility. If the judge denies representation again, then the case may be appealed to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. See Regulations on Eligibility.
Waiver of Counsel
The Northern Mariana Islands do not have a specific juvenile statute, rule, or case law addressing a young person’s waiver of counsel. However, the Rules of Juvenile Delinquency Procedure reference the process of hearings “[a]fter the child has either obtained counsel or clearly indicated that he desires to proceed without counsel and the court deems it fair to so proceed.” N. Mar. I. R. Juv. Del. P. 6(3). Thus, fairness to proceed appears to be the standard for allowing waiver. N. Mar. I. R. Juv. Del. P. 6(3).
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 the Northern Mariana Islands, a detention hearing must occur within 24 hours of the child being detained, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5141(d). Provisions for the detention of youth are found in 6 N. Mar. I. Code §§ 5141; 5142; 5143; 5144; 5153; 5154.
NJDC’s Detention Page provides more information about detaining youth.
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. The Northern Mariana Islands 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 young person who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts is defined by state law. In the Northern Mariana Islands:
- No statute specifies the youngest age at which a young person can be adjudicated delinquent.
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a young person’s 18th birthday. 6 N. Mar. I. Code §§ 5101(m), (o); 5121.
- Juvenile court can retain jurisdiction over youth until age 21, but if the youth already under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction is convicted of a felony, they will be “treated as any other adult offender” after a youth’s 18th birthday. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5123.
Youth in Adult Court
Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. The Northern Mariana Islands have two ways that youth can be prosecuted as adults:
- Discretionary Waiver: Where a “juvenile is alleged to have committed any of the crimes enumerated in 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5131”; or a youth 16 or older is alleged to have committed a felony, the court may hold a hearing for transfer on the motion of any party. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5124(a)-(b).
- Statutory Exclusion: Youth 16 and 17 alleged to have committed violent, statutorily-delineated offenses are held for adult proceedings. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5131(a).If the judge finds that adult sentencing measures would be inappropriate, the judge may sentence the youth in accordance with juvenile disposition options. 6 N. Mar. I. Code § 5131(d).
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 the Northern Mariana Islands. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this jurisdiction, please contact us.