In the landmark Gault decision in 1967, the United States Supreme Court declared that youth have a constitutional right to counsel during juvenile court proceedings regardless of their ability to pay.
Every child who faces the loss of liberty should be represented, from the time of arrest through the termination of their case, by an attorney with the skills necessary to zealously advocate for their interests. On March 13, 2019, the Utah legislature passed Senate Bill 32, which now mandates the automatic appointment of counsel for all youth in delinquency proceedings and requires appointed counsel to be present at all stages of the proceedings, including detention hearings, post-dispositional review hearings, as well as on appeal.
However, the right to counsel means more than just a lawyer in name only. Practical experience, case law, and adolescent brain development scientific research, all compel the conclusion that children are entitled to procedural safeguards that acknowledge their unique vulnerability, including the right to qualified counsel. Advocates for youth should receive special training and should have the skill and experience necessary to protect children. Furthermore, in order to continue to provided adequate representation, juvenile defense attorneys must keep abreast of juvenile justice reform, adolescent brain development and case law.
In an effort to fulfill the promise of In re Gualt, UJDA, a stand-alone office dedicated solely to the representation of youth in delinquency cases, has become the experts in juvenile justice and defense. UJDA has a vibrant community of juvenile defenders, leading the way toward a well-trained, well-resourced, and well-connected statewide network of juvenile advocates, while also raising the level awareness of both policymakers and stakeholders about the importance of zealous defense advocacy. Combined, UJDA’s attorneys have over 70 years of experience in defending our most vulnerable population.
In order to provide holistic representation, UJDA has two social workers who provide a comprehensive assessment of our clients that help the attorneys develop a defense and/or plan of action for successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Furthermore, UJDA also has two in-house appellate attorneys who, in addition to their appellate work, assist trial attorneys with motion writing, trial strategizing and preservation of the trial record.
UJDA has worked to create a community for juvenile defense attorneys across Utah and has become a resource to these attorneys, providing critical support and training. Types of assistance include, consulting on complex or challenging individual cases, assessing local policies or legislation, providing written materials, identifying expert witnesses, and facilitating collaboration among juvenile defenders and other juvenile justice stakeholders. The main method by which UJDA has built relationships with juvenile defense attorneys across Utah is through its training program. UJDA has three national certified Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) trainers who travel across Utah and throughout the country providing free trainings to juvenile defense attorneys. Topics covered in the trainings have included legislative updates, trial strategy, raising competency and motion writing.