Juveniles appearing in delinquency proceedings in Pennsylvania will be required to have legal representation following an amendment to the commonwealth’s Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. The change, effective March 1, follows the “kids for cash” scandal in Luzerne County, Pa. in which juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella took kickbacks from the builder of two for-profit youth detention centers and routinely denied juveniles in his court their right to an attorney.
The new rules say youth under the age of 14 must have an attorney present at all delinquency proceedings and children 14 years of age or older may only waive their right to counsel in very limited circumstances. Even then, the court must be satisfied the waiver was made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily.
In 2011, the Rules for Juvenile Court Procedure were amended to classify all juveniles as indigent, automatically qualifying them for court-appointed attorneys.
“The new court rules will provide youth with important protections,” said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, in a press release applauding the change. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania remains one of only two states in the nation that does not provide any state funding for indigent juvenile defense. While the new rules properly require that all children be represented, the [Pennsylvania] General Assembly must provide funding to address this problem.”
Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted in February of 2011 of taking more than $997,000 in kickbacks from Robert Mericle, the developer of the PA Child Care facilities, according to The Patriot-News.
Following the verdict, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out about 4,000 juvenile convictions saying Ciavarella ignored juvenile offenders’ civil rights, including their right to an attorney.
Photo by Flickr | Joe Gratz