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Role of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Delinquency Court

NCJ Number
Robin Walker Sterling
Date Published
76 pages
This report by the National Juvenile Defender Center presents principles developed to characterize the unique and critical role juvenile defense attorneys have in juvenile proceedings.
These principles are intended to inform defense attorneys and the leadership of indigent defense organizations, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and other juvenile justice stakeholders of the role and responsibilities of defense counsel in the delivery of zealous, comprehensive, and quality legal representation to which children charged with crimes are constitutionally entitled. The first of five principles is the "Duty to Represent the Client's Expressed Interests." In discussing the implementation of this principle, the report addresses the establishment of the attorney-client relationship, the allocation of decisionmaking to the juvenile client in directing the course of proceedings, and addressing the issue of diminished capacity as a factor in a youth's culpability for delinquent behavior. The second principle pertains to the "Duty of Confidentiality and Privilege." Issues discussed in relation to this principle are "no exception for parents or guardians," "no exception for client's best interests," and the provision of a private meeting space. The third principle involves the "Duties of Competence and Diligence." This principle pertains to defense counsel's possession of a "comprehensive skill set" that enables him/her to provide competent representation in juvenile delinquency matters with respect to the client's legal, educational, and social needs. Attorney competence and diligence also pertains to skilled and thorough investigation of the case, as well as protecting the due process rights of the client at every stage of case processing. The fourth principle is the "Duty to Advise and Counsel," which can involve the pursuit of diversion options and the assurance of ethical plea agreements. The fifth principle is the "Duty of Communication" with the client regarding the nature and potential impact of all aspects of case processing. 15 notes and appended ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and core principles for providing quality public defense delivery systems