Juvenile Justice:

Representation Rates Varied As Did Counsel's Impact on Court Outcomes

GGD-95-139: Published: Jun 19, 1995. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 1995.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed juveniles' access to counsel in state and local juvenile delinquency proceedings, focusing on: (1) juveniles' right to counsel under 15 states' laws; (2) the frequency with which juveniles have counsel in juvenile courts in 3 states; (3) the likely impact of counsel on juvenile justice outcomes; (4) juveniles' access to counsel in adult courts; and (5) the quality of counsel juveniles receive.

GAO found that: (1) the 15 states reviewed had laws guaranteeing juveniles' right to counsel in delinquency proceedings which included provisions for indigent juveniles; (2) 11 states specified the circumstances under which juveniles could waive their right to counsel and in 3 states, juveniles could waive their right to counsel although statutes did not specifically provide for such waivers; (3) juvenile representation rates varied between 97 percent to 65 percent and between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas; (4) the impact of counsel on case outcomes varied by the state and offense, but in 2 states, juveniles without representation were less likely to receive out-of-home placements; (5) differences in case outcomes between represented and nonrepresented juveniles were due more to other variables than to juveniles' representation status; (6) although there was no existing data on juveniles' access to counsel in adult courts, state laws provide for such representation; and (7) prosecutors and juvenile justice officials were generally satisfied with the quality of counsel juvenile offenders received and believed that public defenders were at least as capable as private attorneys, although they had excessive caseloads and limited resources.

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