U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Waiver of Counsel in Juvenile Court

NCJ Number
Jennifer Woolard
Date Published
May 2019
42 pages

This study examined age-based differences in knowledge and beliefs of juveniles appearing in juvenile court regarding their decisions about waiver of counsel and waiver of right to trial (guilty plea).


A total of 125 juveniles ages 11-18 who had experienced juvenile -justice processing, along with 96 of their parents, completed semi-structured interviews that assessed their understanding, beliefs, and decisions about the right to counsel and the right to a trial. Virtually all of the adolescents and their parents believed having a defense attorney is a better decision than waiving the right to counsel; however, adolescents differed from parents in their understanding of some aspects of the role of defense attorney and their assessment of risks and benefits of the right to counsel in the context of deciding on a guilty plea. Still, a number of parents also had misconceptions about an attorney's role regarding an adolescent's plea decision. Overall, the findings agree with other similar studies that youth and their parents involved in juvenile justice processing do not have the full knowledge and understanding they need to make informed decisions about whether or not to waive the right to counsel or enter a guilty plea. Juvenile court judges faced with the pressures of time and caseload do not take the time to explain to juveniles and their parents decisions to waive their rights to counsel and to trial. Those who research the developmental and decisionmaking capabilities of youth must converse with juvenile justice stakeholders about the balance between accountability and rehabilitation in providing relevant and complete information about the pros and cons of various decisions that youth and their parents make regarding the waivers of right to counsel and right to trial. 4 figures, 1 table, and 70 references