By Molly Knefel
May 14, 2014
Of all the constitutional rights afforded to Americans, the right to counsel is one of the most well known. In movies and TV shows, cops recite Miranda rights immediately upon arresting anyone, informing suspects of their right to an attorney even if they cannot afford one. This protection for indigent defendants was ensured by the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963; four years later, another case established due process rights for children. In that case, called In re Gault, the court ruled that “Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”
But in juvenile courts across the country, children often face the full weight of the criminal justice system without the protection of a defense attorney. According to a report from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “Some systems ensure that every child in the system is represented, while others allow 80-90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” Children may be unrepresented for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to a public defender or pressure from judges or prosecutors to waive their constitutional right to an attorney.