Do Juveniles Understand Role of Attorneys?

The authors – M. Dyan McGuire, Michael Vaughn, Jeffrey Shook and Tamara Kenny – have attempted to “fill a void by explicitly exploring whether juveniles comprehend what a lawyer is supposed to do for them. A baseline understanding of the role and function of an attorney should be a precondition for any knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to counsel.”

The right to counsel is afforded to defendants under the Constitution, and has been guaranteed in juvenile proceedings since the In re Gault decision in 1967.

Authors surveyed 253 youths who had been incarcerated in some type of facility. Just over half of the interviewees were black, and the vast majority hailed from urban areas.

Eighty percent of the juveniles recalled a lawyer being present, but many did not endorse the presence of a lawyer as helpful. Forty-eight percent did not agree with the statement “Your lawyer did fight hard with you.”

Perhaps most disappointing: “A disheartening 43 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Your lawyer cared more about getting your case over with quickly than about getting justice for you.”

Many respondents were not clear on attorney-client privilege either. One-fifth of them believed their lawyer could “reveal client confidences” to probation officers, and only about half knew that defense attorneys could not betray their confidence to a parent.

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John Kelly

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1 Comment

  1. I’m doing similar research examining legal advocacy in dependency proceedings and am finding similarly dispiriting findings. The attorney-client relationship has its complications, and the results shouldn’t necessarily surprise us: law professor Emily Buss wrote years ago a terrific piece years ago entitled “You’re My What? The Problem of Children’s Misperceptions of Their Lawyers’ Roles” about her time at the Juvenile Law Center that touches on many of the same issues.

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