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Did You Know? Youth Have the Right to Legal Counsel

On May 15, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court’s In re Gault decision affirmed that youth have a constitutional right to due process protections, including access to legal counsel during juvenile court proceedings. 

Despite progress made since this landmark decision, many young people still do not have access to counsel or to the legal resources needed to exercise the rights afforded to them in Gault. Studies show that only 11 states provide all children accused of an offense with a lawyer, regardless of their ability to pay. While 43 states allow children to waive their right to a lawyer, without first consulting with a lawyer.

In recognition of this constitutional right for youth, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act includes provisions ensuring youth have access to appropriate legal representation and expanding access to publicly supported, court-appointed legal counsel who are trained to represent youth in juvenile court. OJJDP continues to support training, technical assistance, and grants to improve youth defense

In a May 2023 blog, OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan called on states to strengthen youth defense systems.

"There will be inconsistencies and injustices, as in Gault’s case," Ryan wrote. "Therefore, we must have clear principles and procedures that protect the interests of the child—by providing representation and affording due process." 

JJDPA 50th Anniversary


Date Published: June 7, 2024