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Missouri: Justice Rationed - An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Juvenile Defense Representation in Delinquency Proceedings

NCJ Number
Mary Ann Scali; Kim Tandy; Jaime Michel; Jordan Pauluhn
Date Published
60 pages
This study determines whether Missouri youth have timely and meaningful access to qualified counsel in delinquency proceedings, identifies systemic barriers to quality legal representation, documents best practices, and offers recommendations and implementation strategies for improving Missouri's juvenile indigent defense delivery system.
Three dominant concerns emerged from the study. First, Missouri's indigent defense system is in crisis, experiencing two decades of crushing caseloads and inadequate resources for providing its mandated services. This condition has persisted in the face of numerous reports, reform attempts, legislative fixes, and litigation. With the exception of a few counties that give high priority to providing counsel for juveniles, youth are discouraged from and systematically denied counsel throughout the State. A second dominant concern that emerged from this study is the practice of adjudicating youth delinquent in order to obtain needed services for the youth and/or establishing justification and authority for public agencies to intervene in the lives of children and families. This practice has been accompanied by a disregard for the due process right to counsel under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in "In re Gault." A third dominant finding is that the structure of Missouri's juvenile court inherently creates conflicting roles. The role of the deputy juvenile officer (Missouri's equivalent of a probation officer) and legal officer (Missouri's equivalent of prosecutor), as designed and implemented, challenges the judiciary regarding the fair implementation of due process, supervision, and the requirement of impartiality. The role of the deputy juvenile officers may also contribute to high rates of youth waiving their right to counsel. The report advises that the recommendations and implementation strategies proposed should become the basis for reform initiatives that improve access to and the quality of legal representation for youth in Missouri's juvenile courts.