In the 1967 landmark case of In re Gault, the United States Supreme Court held that youth had a constitutional right to counsel in delinquency proceedings pursuant to the due process clause of the United States Constitution.
For this right to be meaningful, youth in the delinquency system need to be represented by skilled juvenile defenders who have manageable caseloads, adequate compensation, and sufficient resources to zealously represent them. Unfortunately, as state and national assessments have shown, many youth do not get timely access to attorneys or adequate legal counsel. Public defender systems, strapped for cash and short on personnel, too often have overwhelming caseloads and inadequate training and resources. The result is that “many children are literally left defenseless.”
The need for all youth to have access to quality legal representation is more critical than ever, as the consequences youth face from contact with the justice system have intensified in severity. This section will identify systemic issues in juvenile indigent defense and recommended policy approaches, it will not delve into the specific skills juvenile defenders need to provide competent representation, or the due process needs of youth beyond legal representation.