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. Utah Code Ann. § 77-32-306. 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.

In Utah, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel at “every stage of the proceedings.” Utah Code Ann. §§ 78A-6-1111(1)(a) & (1)(e). When 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). “In cases where a petition or information alleging a felony-level offense is filed, the court shall appoint counsel.” Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-1111(e)(i).

Determination of Indigence

Utah has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. “The court shall take into account the income and financial ability of the parent or legal guardian to retain counsel in determining the indigency of the minor. Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-1111(f). 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. § 77-32-202 (3)(a).

The court may appoint counsel even upon finding the parent or guardian is not indigent. “If the parent, guardian, or custodian of a minor is found not to be indigent but does not or will not retain counsel for the minor and the minor has no means to retain counsel, the court may appoint counsel at public expense. However, the court may order, after giving the parent, guardian or custodian reasonable opportunity to be heard, that the parent, guardian or custodian reimburse the county for the cost of appointed counsel, in whole or in part, depending on ability to pay.” Utah R. Juv. P. 26(c).

Waiver of Counsel

In cases where the petition alleges a felony level offense, the minor may not waive counsel until the minor has had a “meaningful opportunity” to consult with defense counsel. Additionally, the court must find, considering the youth’s unique circumstances and attributes, that the waiver was knowing and voluntary and that the youth understands the consequences of that waiver. Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-1111(e)(i). The meaningful opportunity to consult with defense counsel is not extended to any other cases. The right to counsel may not be waived by a youth unless there has been a finding on the record. Similar to felony offenses, the findings must consider the youth’s unique circumstances and attributes, that the waiver was knowing and voluntary and that the youth understands the consequences of that waiver. Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-1111(e)(ii).

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); Utah Code Ann. §78A-6-113(4)(a). Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Utah Code Ann. §§ 62A-7-201, 78A-6-202, and 78A-6-203, and Utah R. Juv. P. 8 to 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 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, 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 Utah:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Utah has four 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.

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 July 2018.