Vainieri Huttle, Lampitt & Wimberly Bill to Ensure Juvenile Offender’s Right to Counsel Advanced by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt and Benjie Wimberly to ensure a fair judicial process by defining when a juvenile offender has the right to legal counsel during a court proceeding was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

Under current law, a juvenile has a right to an attorney at every critical stage of a court proceeding in a delinquency case. This bill (A-2208) clarifies that a juvenile has a right to an attorney during every court appearance by the juvenile, any interrogation, identification procedure, or other investigative activity undertaken by law enforcement or prosecutorial personnel subsequent to the filing of the complaint; and the duration of any dispositional order entered by the court.

“The court system can be intimidating for most adults, never mind minors,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This will help to make sure vulnerable youth do not fall through the cracks by providing needed legal representation.”

In addition, this bill would establish that when a court requires out-of-home placement of a child in a delinquency case, the court must conduct a placement review hearing no later than 12 months after entry of the dispositional order. Under current law, although young people are routinely sentenced to serve three or more years in state custody, there is no court oversight of out-of-home placements in juvenile delinquency cases unless a specific request is made of the court.

“Sending these juveniles to prison without any thought to the services meant to keep them out of trouble is a wasted opportunity” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Unless we want them to return to prison, we have to have a system in place to ensure they are getting the help they need.”

“Locking them up is simply not enough,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “If we want to prevent recidivism, then we must ensure juvenile offenders receive the services that will help steer them in a different direction than the one that got them in trouble in the first place.”

This provision would amend the current law in New Jersey to be consistent with Key Principle No. 13 of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ Juvenile Delinquency Guidelines (2005), which states: “Juvenile delinquency court judges should ensure effective post-disposition review is provided to each delinquent youth as long as the youth is involved in any component of the juvenile justice system.” Such reviews are essential to monitor compliance with the court’s dispositional orders, to ascertain whether the difficulties that led young people into state custody are being addressed by the placement agency, and to ensure that out-of-home placement continues to be appropriate. Such hearings are required in other states, including New York and Pennsylvania.

Under the bill, during the placement hearing, the court must review the treatment, care, and custody status of the juvenile; determine whether the placement agency is providing those mental health, substance abuse, educational, and other rehabilitative services necessary to promote the juvenile’s successful reintegration into the community; and determine whether the placement continues to be consistent with the factors weighed in determining the original disposition of the juvenile. The bill would allow the court to modify the dispositional order based on the factors considered during the hearing. The bill would further require that the court conduct subsequent placement review hearings every 12 months throughout the duration of any out-of-home placement ordered by the court.

The bill was released by the Assembly Law & Public Safety Committee.