U.S. flag

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

Washington: An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Juvenile Offender Matters

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2003
96 pages
This report presents the methodology and findings of an assessment of the quality of legal representation for juveniles processed in the justice system of Washington State.
Investigative teams of experienced juvenile justice professionals conducted over 200 in-person interviews with judges, commissioners, prosecutors, probation officers, detention staff, defense attorneys, court administrators, social workers, advocates, parents, and juveniles across the State. Surveys were mailed to 230 juvenile defense attorneys in all 39 counties across the State, yielding responses from 100 attorneys in 33 counties. The study found that most counties have not adopted public defense standards as required under State law; consequently, the quality of defense services is inconsistent and unreliable. The high-volume caseloads violate accepted practice standards and reduce the quality of representation. There is no comprehensive and regular training or supervision of defense attorneys for juveniles in most jurisdictions. Although juveniles are represented by counsel at most juvenile court proceedings, some counties do not provide counsel at probable-cause hearings. Further, in direct conflict with national standards, Washington law permits juveniles to waive their right to counsel. The study also found that defense attorneys seldom assist clients after the juvenile court case is concluded, even to make referrals for needed services. The study recommends that juveniles be represented by effective counsel at all court hearings, including probable-cause hearings. Washington law should be changed to conform to national standards that prohibit juveniles from waiving the right to counsel. Continuity of legal representation should continue to be supported and enforced throughout the State; and every county should establish practice standards as mandated by State law. A State ombudsman office should be created and funded to deal with complaints about delivery of public defense services. Other recommendations pertain to training for defense attorneys, limits on the size of attorney caseloads, and the development of focus areas in law schools to address the representation of juveniles. Appended paper on the representation of status offenders in Washington State juvenile courts and 127 notes

Date Published: October 1, 2003