This study assessed access to legal counsel and the quality of legal representation for juveniles in delinquency proceedings in North Carolina.
A team of national and State experts in juvenile justice conducted extensive interviews and meetings with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court counselors, detention-center staff, juveniles and their families, policymakers, and bar association leaders. The teams observed juvenile court proceedings in 11 selected counties and conducted an extensive literature review. Surveys were mailed to all district court judges and chief court counselors throughout the States, as well as to more than 200 public defenders and private attorneys who represent juveniles. The study found inconsistency in the reliability and quality of legal representation within and across counties. This was believed by the study teams to be the result of an absence of accountability or practice standards, inadequate training for defense counsel, and a misunderstanding of the role of defense counsel in juvenile proceedings. Due to the lack of resources available to public defenders in juvenile cases, as well as a lack of access to investigative findings, plea agreements are often the most appropriate resolution that can be achieved; and these agreements tend to reflect weak negotiating positions of the defense counsel. Other deficiencies found pertained to a lack of motions practice, detention advocacy, advocacy at adjudication, and disposition advocacy. Other significant issues identified were few notices of appeal entered, no postdispositional advocacy, clients with mental health needs, disproportionate minority representation in the juvenile justice system, a high number of case referrals from schools, confusion about the role of counsel, and the appropriate role of parents in case processing. Fifteen recommendations are offered for addressing these impediments to the effective legal representation and advocacy for juveniles. These include a recommendation for the development of specialized guidelines for the representation of juveniles that address minimum attorney qualifications and expectations for attorney preparation, case investigation, and attorney-client contact. Such guidelines should also clarify the appropriate role of defense counsel at various stages in juvenile proceedings. Appended IJA/ABA juvenile justice standards relating to counsel for private parties and 139 notes
Date Published: October 1, 2003