Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Washington provides counsel to indigent youth through a county-based system which includes public defender offices, contract attorneys, and private appointed attorneys. “Each county or city . . .shall adopt standards for the delivery of public defense services, whether those services are provided by contract, assigned counsel, or a public defender office.”  Wash. Rev. Code. Ann. § 10.101.030.

The Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD) provides general guidance on indigent defense services and systemic issues related thereto. OPD also oversees contracts with appellate attorneys representing indigent clients. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 2.70.050. OPD does not provide direct representation of clients.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 2.70.020.

The OPD offers a Resource for Public Defense Representation in Juvenile Offender Cases where they provide information regarding a variety of juvenile justice related issues.

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. Washington’s juvenile court rules are called the Washington State Court Rules: Juvenile Court Rules.

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 Washington, youth in juvenile court have the right to counsel at “all critical stages of the proceedings.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(2). Youth have the right to counsel in any proceeding “where the juvenile may be subject to transfer for criminal prosecution or in any proceeding where the juvenile may be in danger of confinement.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(2). The court must inform the youth and their parent, guardian, or custodian of this right. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 13.40.140(1), (2). “The right to counsel includes the right to the appointment of necessary experts.” Wash. Rev. Code. Ann. § 13.40.140(3). Notice of the right to counsel must also be provided in notices of shelter care hearings and in court summons.  Wash. Juv. Ct. R. 2.3 (c).

Youth specifically have the right to counsel at the following proceedings:

Determination of Indigence

Washington has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. A young person “who is financially unable to obtain counsel without causing substantial hardship to [themselves] or the juvenile’s family” shall have counsel provided. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(2). “The ability to pay part of the cost does not preclude assignment.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(2). “In no case may a juvenile be deprived of counsel because of a parent, guardian, or custodian refusing to pay.” Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(2).

Waiver of Counsel

In Washington, a youth who is at least twelve years old may waive the right to counsel. Wash. Rev. Code § 13.40.140(11). The waiver of counsel must be “an express waiver intelligently made” by the young person after they have been “fully” informed of the right being waived. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(10). If a youth is under twelve years of age, the youth’s parent, guardian, or custodian “shall give any waiver or offer any objection” to waiver of counsel. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.140(11).

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. A petition must be filed within 72 hours of the child being detained, excluding weekends and holidays, and a detention hearing must occur within 72 hours of when the petition is filed. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 13.40.050(1).

Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 13.40.038, 13.40.040, 13.40.050, and Wash. Juv. Ct. R. 7.3 and 7.4.

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. Washington statutes list no specific 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 youth who comes within the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts, as well as the age of culpability, is defined by state law. In Washington:

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. The court may decline jurisdiction on a discretionary and mandatory basis through decline hearings. Washington has three ways that youth can be prosecuted as adults:

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 attempt to become successful adults. NJDC worked with local partners to create a youth and family-friendly guide that provides 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.

The Washington booklet was completed in December 2017.


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 Washington State Assessment was completed in October 2003.

Current through July 2018.