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

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2002
59 pages
The purpose of this assessment of access to counsel and quality of representation that children receive in delinquency proceedings in Virginia was to identify the systemic and institutional barriers that impede the development of an improved legal-service delivery system, to highlight innovative practices, and to offer recommendations for change.
Using a variety of modes of data collection, a team of national and State-based experts was established to conduct extensive interviews and meetings with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, detention center staff and administrators, children and families, policymakers, and bar association leaders across the State. In addition, team members observed juvenile court proceedings in selected counties and conducted an extensive literature review. The assessment found that under Virginia law, counsel is not appointed until after the initial hearing. Defense counsel's inability to participate early in the process hinders representation. A related outcome of the absence of counsel early in case processing is the high incidence of children waiving their right to counsel without prior consultation with a lawyer or trained advocate. Further, the delivery of indigent defense services in Virginia is varied and unequal. The lack of a statewide public defender system is by far one of the most significant barriers to access to counsel and quality of representation for juveniles. In both appointed-counsel and public-defender-office jurisdictions, there was a lack of required juvenile-specific training and experience; and a lack of ancillary resources -- including the assistance of support staff, investigators, paralegals, and social workers -- was evident throughout the system. In addition, there was agreement among those interviewed that the juvenile justice system was being burdened with inappropriate referrals, particularly mental health and school-related cases. Other factors found to impede access to quality legal representation for juveniles was the general view among attorneys of the second-rate status of the practice of delinquency law, over-reliance on court service units for recommendations on juvenile processing, the abuse of prosecutorial discretion, the overrepresentation and disparate treatment of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, and low attorney compensation. This report recommends changes designed to address the aforementioned impediments to juveniles' access to quality legal representation in Virginia. Appended Virginia Juvenile Justice Law and 94 notes

Date Published: September 1, 2002