Ensure Access to Quality Counsel

Policy Position 7: Ensure Access to Quality Counsel

Effective assistance of counsel is essential to reducing unnecessary detention, transfer to adult court, and incarceration of young people. Youth in delinquency cases have a constitutional right to counsel, as the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in the 1967 landmark case, In re Gault. Yet across the country, youth too often face court hearings without the effective assistance of counsel, sometimes appointed as little as five minutes before the case is called, and many waive their right to counsel altogether. Like all people, youth need access to qualified, well-resourced defense counsel throughout the entire juvenile or criminal court process.

Beneficial reforms include early assignment of counsel; policies that ensure that all youth are represented; specialized training for attorneys on topics such as adolescent development, mental health, and special education; and cross-system representation when adolescents are involved in multiple systems such as special education and child welfare. An informed defense attorney can also ensure that youth are not subject to unwarranted collateral consequences of juvenile justice-involvement that can affect education, employment, and residence.

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