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New Missouri bill addresses juvenile waiver rights to counsel

It’s not like St. Louis County is off the radar when it comes to the spotlighting of problems linked with juvenile crime and the subsequent failure of young people charged with criminal counts to secure legal counsel.

In fact, the county has been prominently cited by both advocates for minor offenders and federal government officials as having a problem concerning juveniles’ right to counsel.

That is this: Both in the past and presently a troublingly high number of youthful offenders are reportedly waiving their right to timely secure representation from a defense attorney.

That was noted in a report authored some years back by the National Juvenile Defender Center. That advocacy group cast a shadow over all of Missouri, stressing that “youth are discouraged from and systematically denied counsel throughout the state.”

The U.S. Department of Justice later endorsed that finding, pointing specifically to a high waiver rate by minors in St. Louis County. Regulators stressed that troubling waiver outcomes mandated continuing federal supervision, which resulted over a multi-year period.

Things are reportedly better now, although some legislators, legal participants and child advocates still insist that waivers occur far too often, yielding sadly unfortunate results for charged juveniles.

New would-be legislation addresses that. Missouri House Bill 42, which is currently under consideration by state lawmakers, seeks to impose tighter restrictions over juvenile counsel waivers. The bill’s language renders it imperative that a waiver be made in open court and in writing. Additionally, it would apply only to the matter immediately at hand, not to a juvenile’s entire case. Further still, HB 42 would bar waivers altogether in certain instances.

The bill’s sponsor says that the legislation is necessary to protect young people from making bad decisions.

“Expecting them [juvenile offenders] to exercise good judgment when it comes to waiving their rights is a stretch,” says Rep. Ingrid Burnett (D-Kansas City).

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