Currently in Michigan a juvenile delinquent can be assigned an attorney by the state if the child's legal guardian refuses to take part in the proceedings, the child's parents are in the complaint in the case, the child and those responsible for him cannot afford an attorney, or if a court decides it is in the best interest of the child and or the public. If House Bill 4314 passes it would delete these stipulations and force the court to appoint an attorney to delinquents, unless they have already retained council. The child would have the right to waive their access to an attorney, however; if the child's parents objected, the right to an attorney could not be waived. One of the main goals of this bill is uniformity, which currently does not exist. Juvenile justice advocates argue that current policies are not sufficient to ensure the safety of youth. Citing specifically the notice of right to representation and lack of requirements to appoint council, they argue that if this trend continues we will be failing our children. They also point out that some counties are quick to provide an attorney while others rarely provideone..
Those who oppose the bill highlight the financial costs which could result from the passage of House bill 4314. The costs, which are indeterminable, would be absorbed by county governments, many of which are currently going through massive cuts and downsizing. A second argument is that this could make the courts less efficient and more expensive for the non indigent delinquents and their families. Some juvenile cases are more informal than others and do not require an attorney to be present. Mandating an attorney be present in each and every case would cost the county and non indigent families more money. Opponents also cite that as written the bill allows for a child to waive his right to an attorney when it was determined to be in their or the public's best interest to retain the services of an attorney. The statute would then conflict with a provision in the Michigan court rules. Proponents of the bill are of the opinion that this bill will strengthen the due process rights of children facing delinquency charges. They don't believe that it will add economic stress to counties due to the fact that parents can retain their own legal services and non indigent families can be forced to pay restitution.
The right of the child to waive their legal rights is a topic of much debate; many experts argue that children do not fully understand the ramifications their actions and the actions of the court can have on their adult lives. A second argument is that many delinquents refuse legal counsel at the advice of their parents who may fear having to reimburse the county or have legal matters of their own such as substance or sexual abuse that they do not wish to have uncovered. This is based upon testimony from the Legal Aid and Defender Program where it was stated that "most of the children in the juvenile justice system have come from environments where there may be substance abuse, mental health issues, domestic violence as well as other forms of abuse and/or neglect."
This bill has support from strong political lobbying outlets such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Campaign for Justice and no one group has come out strongly against the bill. In order for this bill to pass, legislators would have to be convinced that it will not add more economic stress to their already struggling counties. Some legislators may live in an area with low delinquency rates where this bill would have little impact on their county. A yay vote could be viewed as wasteful spending. Due to the economic downturn facing nearly every county in Michigan as well as the limited scope of this bill, I do not find it likely that this bill will pass.