Juvenile Indigent Defense Delivery System


Vermont provides counsel to indigent youth alleged to be delinquent or children in need of care and supervision (CHINS) through a state-funded system of public defender offices, contract attorneys, and appointed attorneys, all coordinated through the Office of the Defender General. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 5253 (2020). When public defenders or contract defenders cannot represent a client due to conflicts, the court appoints an ad hoc attorney to the case.

Vermont 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. Vermont’s delinquency proceedings are governed by the Vermont Rules for Family Proceedings.

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 Vermont, “[t]he court shall appoint an attorney for a child who is a party to a proceeding brought under the juvenile judicial proceedings chapters,” unless counsel has already been retained. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5112(a) (2020); Vt. R. Fam. Pro. 6(b).

A youth is specifically entitled to counsel at the following stages:

  • “Counsel for the child shall be assigned prior to the preliminary hearing.” Stat. Ann. tit. 33, §5225(a) (2020).
  • Temporary care hearings. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5255(c)(4) (2020).
  • Probation pre-violation hearings held to determine if there is probable cause to hold the youth for a violation hearing. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5267(a)(2) (2020).
  • Probation violation hearings (the right to legal counsel “if requested”). Stat. Ann. tit. 33, §5268(a)(1) (2020).
  • Any “proceedings arising out of a petition brought in a juvenile court when the court deems the interests of justice require representation of … the child … including any subsequent proceedings arising from an order therein.” Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 5232(3) (2020).

Determination of Indigence

Vermont has a presumption that children are automatically eligible for an attorney based on their status as children, irrespective of financial status. “A juvenile shall not be ordered to pay any part of the cost of representation.” Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, §5238(g) (2020).

Waiver of Counsel

Youth in Vermont may waive their rights to counsel if “the court determines, after opportunity to be heard, each of the following:

(A) That there is a factual and legal basis for the waiver or admission;

(B) The attorney has investigated the relevant facts and law, consulted with the client and guardian ad litem and the guardian ad litem has consulted with the ward;

(C) That the waiver or admission is in the best interest of the ward;

(D) That the waiver or admission is being entered into knowingly and voluntarily by the ward and also by the guardian ad litem, except as set forth in (4) below.” Vt. R. Fam. Pro. 6(d)(3).

The court may approve a waiver of counsel by the guardian ad litem without the consent of the child if the child, “because of mental or emotional disability, is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the waiver or admission or is unable to communicate with respect to the waiver or admission.” Vt. R. Fam. Pro. 6(d)(4).

Children under the age of 13 are “rebuttably presumed to be incapable of understanding the nature and consequences of the waiver or admission and of communicating with respect to the waiver or admission; a person 13 years old or older shall be rebuttably presumed to be capable.” Vt. R. Fam. Pro. 6(d)(4).

Cash Bail

Vermont neither authorizes nor prohibits the use of bail in juvenile court by statute or court rule.

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 Vermont, a “A temporary care hearing shall be held within 72 hours of the issuance of an emergency care order or conditional custody order.” Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5255(a) (2020).  Provisions for the detention of youth are found in Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, §§ 5251-5258; 5291-5293, and Vt. R. Fam. Pro. 1.

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. Vermont statutes list two post-disposition proceedings at which youth have a right to counsel.

In Vermont, youth have a right to counsel in the following post-disposition proceedings:

  • Probation pre-violation hearings. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5267(a)(2) (2020).
  • Probation Violation hearings (the right to legal counsel “if requested”). Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5268(a)(1) (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 Vermont:

  • “The Family Division of the Superior Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all proceedings concerning a child who is or who is alleged to be a delinquent child … brought under the authority of the juvenile judicial proceedings chapters, except as otherwise provided in such chapters.”
  • Statute defines a “child” for delinquency purposes as “An individual who has been alleged to have committed or has committed an act of delinquency after becoming 10 years of age and prior to becoming 22 years of age…” Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5102(2)(C) (2020);
  • If the child is alleged to have committed an act that could be murder if committed by an adult and they are under 10 years of age, they may be subject to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5102(2)(C)(i) (2020);
  • The state’s attorney may seek to proceed against a child as a youthful offender if the child “is alleged to have committed an offense after attaining 14 years of age, but not 22 years of age that could otherwise be filed in the Criminal Division.” Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5280(b) (2020);
  • “Jurisdiction over a child shall not be extended beyond the child’s 18th birthday,” Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5103(c)(1), except that “Jurisdiction over a child with a pending delinquency may be extended until six months beyond the child’s:
    • (i) 19th birthday if the child was 16 or 17 years of age when he or she committed the offense;
    • (ii) 20th birthday if the child was 18 years of age when he or she committed the offense; or
    • (iii) 21st birthday if the child was 19 years of age when he or she committed the offense. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5103(c)(2)(A) (2020).

Youth in Adult Court

Despite the existence of juvenile courts, many youth are still tried as adults. In Vermont, youth can be prosecuted as adults when:

  • The youth has attained 16 years of age but not 19 years of age at the time of the non-statutorily delineated felony offense or, if the youth has attained 12 years of age but not 14 and has committed a statutorily-delineated violent offense. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, § 5204(a) (2020).
  • Any proceeding involving a youth alleged to have committed any of the statutorily-delineated violent offenses (specified in 5204(a)) who is 14 years of age, but not 22 years of age, shall originate in adult court unless that State’s Attorney files the charge directly as a youth offender petition in the Family Division. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, §5201(c) (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 Vermont. 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 Vermont. 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.