Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System
Wyoming provides counsel to indigent youth statewide through the Office of the State Public Defender, which represents youth in delinquency cases and on appeal. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-6-104 (2020). The Public Defender budget is comprised of 85% from the state funds and counties pay the remaining 15%. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-6-113 (2020).
Wyoming has no statutorily mandated 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. Wyoming’s juvenile court rules are provided in the Rules of Procedure for Juvenile Courts.
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 constitutional or statutory provisions further expanding upon on or delineating that right.
In Wyoming, youth in delinquency cases and children in need of supervision proceedings have the right to “counsel at every stage of the proceedings including appeal.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(a) (2020), Wyo. R. Proc. Juv. Ct. 5. “At their first appearance before the court, the child and [their] parents, guardian, or custodian shall be advised…of their right to be represented by counsel . . . ” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(a) (2020). Any order setting an initial hearing must include notice of the right to counsel and must direct any party requesting court-appointed counsel to file a financial affidavit with the court at least five days before the hearing or risk sanctions or liability for costs resulting from the delays. Wyo. R. Proc. Juv. Ct. 5(c).
If counsel is requested, and the family is unable to obtain counsel, the court shall appoint an attorney, who may be the guardian ad litem, to represent the child. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(b) (2020). “If the child requests counsel and [their] parents, guardian, or custodian…is able but unwilling to obtain counsel… the court shall appoint counsel to represent the child and may direct reimbursement of counsel fees….” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(b) (2020). In addition to appointing counsel when requested, “the court may appoint counsel for any party when necessary in the interest of justice.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(c) (2020).
If no parent, guardian, or custodian appears on behalf of a child accused of delinquency, or if their interests are adverse to the best interests of the child, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-216 (2020). Wyoming case law is clear that a lawyer who is appointed as a guardian ad litem is to act as the child’s advocate and has the same ethical responsibilities toward the youth as any attorney. Moore v. Moore, 809 P.2d 261, 264 (Wyo. 1991).
Determination of Indigence
Wyoming has no presumption of indigence in juvenile court proceedings. If the child, parents, guardian, or custodian request counsel, the court will require them to “verify their financial condition under oath, either by written affidavit” or by testimony before the court. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(b) (2020). They must “state they are without sufficient money, property, assets or credit to employ counsel in their own behalf.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(b) (2020).
However, if a youth is appointed counsel, the court may hold the parents, guardians(s), or other person’s responsible for legal services. “In every case…in which counsel has been appointed under § 14-6-222(b) to represent the child, the child’s parents, guardian or other person responsible for the child’s support, the court shall determine whether the child, the child’s parents, guardian or other person responsible for the child’s support is able to pay part or all of the costs of representation and shall enter specific findings on the record. If the court determines that any of the parties is able to pay any amount as reimbursement for costs of representation, the court shall order reimbursement or shall state on the record the reasons why reimbursement was not ordered.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-235(c) (2020).
Waiver of Counsel
There does not appear to be a youth-specific statute or procedure regarding waiver of counsel in Wyoming. In criminal proceedings, a “person who has been advised of his rights…may waive any right…if at the time of or after waiver, the court finds that the person has acted with full awareness of his rights and of the consequences of a waiver and if the waiver is otherwise made according to law. Before making its findings, the court shall consider such factors as the person’s age, education, familiarity with the English language and the complexity of the crime involved. A person who knowingly and voluntarily waives his right to counsel and who elects to represent himself shall not be entitled to standby counsel.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 7-6-107 (2020), Wyo. R. Proc. Juv. Ct. 5(d).
Wyoming neither authorizes nor prohibits the use of bail in juvenile court by statute or court rule.
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 Wyoming, a detention hearing “shall be held as soon as reasonably possible but no later than 48 hours, excluding weekends and legal holidays, after the child is taken into custody to determine if further detention is required pending further court action.” Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-209(a) (2020). Other provisions regarding the detention of children can be found in Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 5-6-112, 7-1-107, 7-1-108, 14-4-117, 14-6-205 to 14-6-10, 14-6-213, and 14-6-214 (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.
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. Wyoming statutes list one post-disposition proceeding at which youth have a right to counsel.
In Wyoming, youth have a right to counsel in the following post-disposition proceeding:
- Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-6-222(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 Wyoming:
- Juvenile court has jurisdiction over offenses alleged to have been committed prior to a child’s 18th birthday; after age 18, the youth is charged in adult court. Stat. Ann. §§ 14-1-101, 14-6-201 (2020);
- “Unless sooner terminated by court order, all orders issued under the [Juvenile Justice Act] shall terminate with respect to a child adjudicated…delinquent, when [they] [reach] 21 years of age.” Stat. Ann. § 14-6-231(c)(ii) (2020); and
- No statute specifies the youngest age at which a youth can be adjudicated delinquent.
Youth in Adult Court
Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. Wyoming statutes provide that a youth may be tried as an adult in these two instances:
- “After a petition alleging a child has committed a delinquent act is filed, the court may, on its own motion or that of any party any time prior to the adjudicatory hearing, order a transfer hearing to determine if the matter should be transferred to another court having jurisdiction of the offense charged for criminal prosecution . . . The court shall order the matter transferred to the appropriate court for prosecution if after the transfer hearing it finds that proper reason therefor exists . . . ” Stat. Ann. § 14-6-237(a)-(b) (2020).
- The district attorney has discretion to file the following types cases “either in the juvenile court or in the district court or inferior court having jurisdiction”:
- Any misdemeanor except those “within the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court”; Felony cases in which the minor has attained the age of seventeen (17) years;
- Cases in which the minor has attained the age of fourteen (14) years and is charged with a violent felony as defined by 6-1-104(a)(xii) ; and
- Cases in which a minor who has attained the age of fourteen (14) years is charged with a felony and has previously been adjudicated as a delinquent under two (2) separately filed juvenile petitions for acts which if committed by an adult constitute felonies.” Stat. Ann. § 14-6-203(f) (2020).
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 Wyoming. 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 Wyoming. If you would like to collaborate with NJDC to fund-raise for, plan, or engage in an assessment in this state, please contact us.