The Juvenile Law Center has sent a petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court requesting immediate relief for the approximately 200 youth in Luzerne County who, records show, have appeared in the county’s juvenile court without representation since 2005. According to the JLC press release, “The state data show that from 2005 – 2006, more than 500 families in the county were affected and approximately 200 children were removed from their homes, leaving both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized.” In other words, 50 percent of the teens who appeared in court during that time were not represented by counsel–that’s ten times the state average, not to mention a clear violation of the due process rights guaranteed to these young defendants by the landmark Supreme Court decision In Re Gault.
“Luzerne County’s Juvenile Court proceedings represent the most egregious violation of children’s constitutional rights in Pennsylvania,” says JLC legal director Marsha Levick. “When more than half of all youth appear in court without legal representation and are routinely taken from their homes and placed in residential treatment for minor offenses, something is seriously wrong and it must be stopped.”
The Wilkes-Barre-area daily Times Leader reports that the county’s juvenile judge, Mark Ciavarella,
acknowledged Tuesday that a high percentage of youths who come before him are not represented by attorneys. He could not explain why the numbers were so much higher than other counties.
The judge said in many cases he believes parents opt not to obtain attorneys because they know their child is guilty.
He insisted parents are advised at every step of the process that their child is entitled to an attorney, and that one will be appointed if they cannot afford one.
“It’s not like they’re walking into this blind. They are advised on three different occasions they have a right to have a lawyer present,” Ciavarella said. “If they want waive their right to an attorney, that’s their business.”