Legislature

Law ensures juveniles receive legal counsel

Youths facing judge will be represented

Posted

A new law guarantees that arrested juvenile defendants will receive a lawyer when they face a judge for the first time.

The law addresses a “concerning” statistic indicating that 45 percent of children go through the entire judicial process without having a lawyer present, according to Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, who sponsored the effort at the Legislature this year.

“This has been longstanding and a very serious problem,” Kagan said. “Our justice system is less robust if children are not getting counsel. This bill makes that right.”

The bill — which received bipartisan support from both legislative chambers — was signed into law on May 21 by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

After an arrest, judges have 48 hours to determine whether to release a child or keep the person behind bars, pending trial. The bill ensures that juveniles who are making their first court appearance after being arrested will have legal counsel available at the hearing.

Before this law, juveniles were told that they have the option of speaking with a lawyer. But being told that they have that right and actually having a lawyer present are two different things, Kagan said.

“The kids are like a deer caught in headlights,” Kagan said. “They don't have a clue. They're thinking one thing and one thing only — `How in the hell do I get out of these shackles? I'll go along with anything that a person wearing a tie or a robe tells me to do.' But they're not the child's lawyer.”

The law also assists juveniles who are released from jail. When they receive a summons for their next court appearance, the summons will plainly state that they have a right “to a free lawyer” if they qualify financially, Kagan said. The summons will also have a phone number and website address to provide the youths with more information.

Kagan hopes that this law will prevent children from being unnecessarily locked up.

“That child's life can be impacted forever; locked into a bitter, angry, antisocial attitude and it is sometimes hard to recover and it persist for years,” Kagan said. “It's a very serious issue and I'm delighted that we're finally addressing it.”