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Pennsylvania: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2003
116 pages
This study assessed access to legal counsel and the quality of legal representation for juveniles in Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system.
In 2002, the Juvenile Law Center and the American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center jointly conducted the first Pennsylvania-specific survey of attorneys who represented juveniles in order to gain an understanding of how the juvenile courts were complying with the State's law that guarantees legal counsel for juveniles processed in the juvenile justice system. In addition to the survey, experienced juvenile justice professionals observed juvenile court proceedings across the State. The study found that Pennsylvania does not have a uniform system for providing defense services to indigent juveniles. Pennsylvania does not provide State funding for nor oversight of indigent defender services for juveniles. Lacking the resources, the time, and the training, the majority of defense attorneys who represent indigent juveniles do not confer with their clients in an effective manner, engage in research relevant to the case, review files, conduct pretrial investigations, secure expert assistance, or prepare adequately for critical stages of case processing. The lack of standards for juvenile defense services and excessive caseloads undermine the quality of the defense services delivered. Recommendations for improving the defense system for juveniles are targeted toward the executive branch, the State Supreme Court, and the county juvenile courts. Generally, the report advises that the Commonwealth, including its judicial districts and counties, should increase resources for juvenile defense services and improve the quality of legal representation for juveniles at the stages of detention, trial, disposition, and postdisposition. Moreover, juvenile defense attorneys should become more proactive in addressing systemic juvenile justice issues across the Commonwealth. Appended data and IJA/ABA juvenile justice standards relating to counsel for private parties and 134 notes

Date Published: October 1, 2003