Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Utah provides counsel to indigent youth through a county-funded system that includes legal defender’s offices, contract attorneys, or interlocal cooperation agreements. In juvenile court hearings, children “shall be represented at each hearing by the guardian ad litem appointed to the child’s case by the court.” Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-317 (2020); 2019 Ut. SB 32 (repealing Utah Code Ann. § 77-32-306, amending § 78A-6-317). Appellate representation is also provided and funded by counties.

Utah has no statutorily mandated 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. Utah’s juvenile court rules are called the Utah Rules of Juvenile 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.

Youths have a right to be represented by counsel at all stages of the proceedings and indigent youth have the right to appointed counsel. Utah R. Juv. P. 26(a)(6) (2020). “Where necessary to protect the interest of the youth, the court may appoint counsel without the request of the youth or the youth’s parent or guardian.” Utah R. Juv. P. 26(b) (2020).

Determination of Indigence

Utah has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. Indigence is defined as an inability to pay for counsel without depriving oneself or one’s family of basic necessities, or as having an income level no higher than 150% of the current federal poverty level. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-22-202(1)(a),(b) (2020). “The court may make a finding of indigency at any time.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-22-202(3) (2020).

The court may order a parent or legal guardian of a youth who is appointed “indigent defense services” to reimburse the cost of the youth’s indigent defense services unless the parent is found indigent under Utah Code Ann. §§ 78B-22-202, 78B-22-304 (2020).

Waiver of Counsel

A youth may not waive the right to counsel before the youth has consulted with counsel and satisfies the court that the waiver is knowing and voluntary and the youth understand the consequences of the waiver. Utah Code Ann. §78B-22-204 (2020). To satisfy the court of these criteria, the youth’s “unique circumstances and attributes” must be considered. Utah Code Ann. §78B-22-204 (2020). While a youth “14 years of age and older is presumed capable of intelligently comprehending and waiving the minor’s right to counsel… [a] child under 14 years of age may not waive such rights outside of the presence of the child’s parent, guardian or custodian.” Utah R. Juv. P. 26 (e) (2020).

Cash Bail

Provisions of law regarding bail are not applicable to children except when a youth is nonresident of Utah or when a youth who receives a citation willfully fails to appear in court. Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-113(12) (2020).

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 Utah, a detention hearing must occur within 48 hours of the child being detained, excluding weekends and holidays, unless an order for continued detention is entered. Utah R. Juv. P. 9(b) (2020); Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-113(4)(a) (2020). Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Utah Code Ann. §§ 62A-7-201, 78A-6-112, 78A-6-113,  78A-6-703.2, and Utah R. Juv. P. 8 to 11 (2020).

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

In Utah, while youth have the right to counsel at all stages of the proceedings, pursuant to Utah R. Juv. P. 26(a)(6) (2020), they also explicitly have a rule-based and codified right to counsel at appeals, Utah R. Juv. P. 52(f) (2020); Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-1109(5)(a) (2020).

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 Utah:

  • No statute specifies the youngest age at which a youth can be adjudicated delinquent;
  • Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed by a person younger than 21 years of age at the time of the poroceedings and who is charged with an offense alleged to have occurred before the young person turned 18 years of age, unless the juvenile court transfers jurisdiction to the adult criminal court.; Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-103(1)(a) (2020).
  • For youth age 14 or older, the court may retain jurisdiction over the child’s case until age 25, under certain conditions enumerated by § 78A-6-703.4.

Youth in Adult Court

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

  • “If a prosecuting attorney charges a minor with aggravated murder under § 76-5-202 or murder under § 76-5-203, the prosecuting attorney shall file a criminal information in the district court if the minor was the principal actor in an offense and the information alleges: the minor was 16 or 17 years old at the time of the offense; and they are being charged with aggravated murder; or murder.” Utah Code Ann. 78A-6-703.2 (1)(a) (2020).
  • If a prosecuting attorney charges a youth with a felony, the prosecuting attorny may file a criminal information in the court if the youth was a principle actor in the offense and the information alleges, provided that: 
    • the youth was 16 or 17 years old at the time of the offense and the offense for which the youth is being charged is one of the enumerated felonies listed under § 78A-6-703.3 ; or
    • the youth was 14 or 15 years old at the time of the offense and the offense was aggravated murder or murder, or an attempt at either. Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-703.3 (1)(a), (b) (2020).

Collateral Consequences

Involvement with the delinquency system can affect a youth’s employment, housing, and educational opportunities, leaving the young person with tremendous hurdles as they transition to adulthood. The NJDC Collateral Consequences Page provides more information about collateral consequences of juvenile court involvement.

In a variety of states, NJDC has worked with local partners to create youth and family-friendly guides that provide general information about the collateral consequences of juvenile court involvement, how to overcome these hurdles, and resources to assist in reducing the harm of having a juvenile record. NJDC has not yet created a guide for Utah. We hope to do so in the near future.

State Race Statistics

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) provides juvenile justice  profiles for all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Specifically, the data compares the Black, non-Hispanic proportion of the youth population of each state, with the national average, as well as the Hispanic proportion of the youth population of each state with the national average. The data also provides the ratio of youth of color to white youth in residential placement in each state and compares it with the national average.  

OJJDP Juvenile Justice State Profiles can be accessed here.


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 Utah. 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 November 2020.