Home News Center Colorado Passes Bill to Ensure Early Access to Counsel

Colorado Passes Bill to Ensure Early Access to Counsel

June 4, 2014
Zoe Schein

Last year, the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC), an NJJN partner, and the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC), an NJJN member, exposed a huge gap in Colorado youths’ access to defense counsel. An NJDC study co-authored by CJDC found wide disparities in access to and quality of counsel. CJDC later released its own report, “Kids Without Counsel,” regarding the 45% of juvenile cases statewide that proceeded with no defense attorney present at any point in the case.

“What’s worse,” says Kim Dvorchak, executive director of CJDC, “is that statistic doesn’t even count the late appointments, the cases where kids didn’t have a lawyer until their third or fourth court date. It’s shocking. People assume that when kids go to court they’ll have a lawyer, and that’s just not the case.”

With the help of partners like NJDC, the National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems, M+R Strategic Services, and various system stakeholders, CJDC crafted a bill to address this problem (H.B. 1032) that focused on early access to defense counsel at youth detention hearings as well as first court appearances.

“Children who are detained are shackled, no matter what kind of court appearance,” Dvorchak said. “Picture a child in a jumpsuit, shackled, appearing before a judge who decides whether or not they go home--and this child has no lawyer.”

Dvorchak noted that an estimated 2,000 such youth appeared at detention hearings last year alone.

H.B. 1032 was signed into law in May. Now, every Colorado child who appears at a detention hearing must be represented by counsel, without delay to the court process. The bill additionally mandates that information directing the youth to the public defender’s office be included in court summonses for young people who are not held in custody. These changes will go into effect on November 1, 2014.

While this new legislation will vastly improve Colorado youths’ access to counsel, there are still significant barriers to accessible, adequate juvenile defense in the state, Dvorchak says.

“We hope to reassess indigent determinations, because the guidelines you have to qualify for to be eligible are so low; you have to be under 125% of the federal poverty rate to qualify for public defense. So a child from a family of four, with an income of $40,000, wouldn’t qualify for free defense counsel. That gap between being eligible for public defense and being able to afford a private attorney is another piece that needs to be addressed.”

» Read the full text of H.B. 1032
» More resources from CJDC on H.B. 1032
» Download “Kids Without Counsel: Colorado’s Failure to Safeguard Due Process for Children in Juvenile Delinquency Court.”

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