State Juvenile Defense Project gets federal funding

The Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has awarded a three-year federal grant to the Michigan Appellate Assigned Counsel System (MAACS), a division of the State Appellate Defender Office (SADO), to establish a Juvenile Defense Project in Michigan.

The grant will fund the design, implementation and oversight of a statewide roster of attorneys to represent children appealing their juvenile adjudications under the direction of a full-time Project Director and volunteer Advisory Board.

The grant comes on the heels of a June 2020 report by the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) titled “Overdue for Justice: An Assessment of Access to and Quality of Juvenile Defense Counsel in Michigan.”

The NJDC found that “Michigan’s current service delivery for delinquency representation is inadequate to ensure constitutional guarantees for children” — it “is not subject to any state standards, receives no state funding, and has no consistent, effective monitoring or enforcement mechanism.”

As the NJDC explained, SADO and MAACS are uniquely positioned to address this crisis at the appellate level:

“Michigan already has an effective model of providing adult representation through SADO and MAACS, which could be replicated for juvenile delinquency cases, including trial-level training, consultation, and other support,” according to officials with the center. “It could incorporate juvenile appellate representation within that office and examine other ways to strengthen appellate rules and practices.”

The project will focus on improving three critical components of a juvenile defense delivery system: access to counsel for youth as well independence in the selection, oversight of counsel,   and quality of representation.

“This is a real game changer for juvenile indigent defense in Michigan,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. “It will expand a successful formula for private assigned appellate counsel and could lay the foundation for further reform.”

Brad Hall, MACCS administrator, added: “It’s very exciting to be involved in something like this from the start. The grant will allow us to help a lot of youth while planting seeds for something much bigger.”

The Juvenile Defense Project plans to hire a project director and launch operations early next year.