Gideon at Sixty: Advancing the Right to Counsel for Kids in Cuyahoga County

The Wren Collective (2023).

This independent report by the Wren Collective examines youth defense appointment practices in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and finds that juvenile court judges are routinely assigning private attorneys over public defenders to represent youth in juvenile court. Specifically, the public defender’s office was appointed to 25% of the juvenile delinquency cases in the county in 2022, despite having capacity to handle more. This underutilization of public defenders has resulted in stark outcomes for youth—as an example, 60% of youth represented by private counsel were transferred to adult court in discretionary bindover proceedings, compared to 13% of youth represented by a public defender. This report highlights differences in specialized training, oversight, and resources between private counsel and public defenders that result in higher quality representation by public defenders in Cuyahoga County. The contrast in outcomes also demonstrates that the public defender office’s holistic youth defense teams, with social workers and investigators, contribute to meaningful differences for youth, especially in transfer proceedings. This report offers a set of recommendations and calls for Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court to appoint public youth defenders for all cases and implement an independent assignment process that includes the verification of an attorney’s training and qualifications to represent youth. This report highlights key structural elements of a juvenile court system, such as youth defense specialization and the independence of the judiciary, to uphold young people’s constitutional right to counsel.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Policy Tool, Resource Library
Tags: Access to Counsel, Contract Counsel, Holistic Defense, Specialization, Transfer