Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Oklahoma provides counsel to indigent youth through a combination of county and state public defender offices and private appointed attorneys. Counties with populations in excess of 300,000—such as the counties containing the metropolitan areas of Tulsa and Oklahoma City—must establish and fund public defender offices. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 19 § 138.1a. All other counties are served by Oklahoma’s Indigent Defense System (OIDS), which provides representation through its satellite trial offices or through agreements with private attorney. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 22 § 1355.6. OIDS represents youth in juvenile delinquency cases and appeals. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(D).

Oklahoma mandates at least six hours of education and training annually for all juvenile defenders associated with OIDS. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 1-8-101(B)(1). Each judicial district is responsible for developing and administering rules for courses for attorneys with juvenile docket responsibilities. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 1-8-101(B)(2).

Oklahoma youth have a right to a trial by jury in “adjudicatory hearings to determine if a child is delinquent or in need of supervision,” unless waived. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-401.

Court Rules

In addition to statutes and case law, juvenile court proceedings are governed by court rules. Oklahoma does not have specific juvenile court rules at the statewide level, but local court rules and the Oklahoma Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals may apply to juvenile courts and proceedings in that jurisdiction.

 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 Oklahoma, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel in all proceedings under the Oklahoma Juvenile Code. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(D).

Whenever a petition is filed, if a child is not otherwise represented by counsel, then counsel “shall be appointed by the court only upon determination by the court” that the child’s parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian is indigent. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(C).

Counsel for a child has the same ethical obligations as counsel for an adult; and, when reasonably possible,  counsel must “advise the child and advocate the expressed wishes of the child.”  Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(E).

Specifically, youth have a right to counsel at:

Determination of Indigence

Oklahoma has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. Counsel shall be appointed only after a “determination by the court that the parent, legal guardian or legal custodian is found to be indigent.” Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(C). If the parent or guardian is not indigent but refuses to hire an attorney for the youth, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the youth at detention hearings until counsel is hired for the youth. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(C). The court will ensure representation for the youthful offender or child until completion or dismissal of the case. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(C). Instead, the court will order the parent or custodian to obtain counsel for the youth, and if they willfully fail to follow the court order and do not provide counsel for the youth, the parent “shall be found in indirect contempt of court.” Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(C).

District court judges determine whether a defendant is indigent by applying standards developed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Rules of the Ct. Crim. App. 1.14; Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, http://www.ok.gov/OIDS/faqs.html.

Waiver of Counsel

Oklahoma does not have a specific juvenile statute, rule, or case law addressing a youth’s waiver of counsel. However, state statute stresses that a youth’s parent or guardian cannot waive the right to counsel on the child’s behalf. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-2-301(C).

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. Oklahoma law does not dictate the time within which a detention hearing must be held. Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A §§ 2-2-101; 2-3-101 to 103.

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. Oklahoma statutes list four post-disposition proceedings at which youth have a right to counsel.

In Oklahoma, 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 Oklahoma:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Oklahoma has three ways that youth can be prosecuted as adults:

Once an Adult, Always an Adult. Any youth who has been tried or sentenced as an adult will be tried in all subsequent criminal proceedings as an adult. Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10A § 2-5-204(G)(1)-(2).

This summary of youth in adult court will go into effect November 1, 2018.


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 Oklahoma. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fundraise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this state, please contact us.

Current through July 2018.