Parents are used to being in most meetings that involve their children — such as with teachers and doctors. It can come as a shock when they are asked to wait in the hallway while the child meets with his or her defense attorney. However, both the parents and the attorney need to adhere to this boundary in most cases. It is much the same as when a child meets with a mental health professional alone.
In Indiana, a child is considered a client with diminished capacity due to his or her age. Nonetheless, the lawyer is required to maintain as far as reasonably possible a normal client-lawyer relationship with the child. Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.14(a).
The separate meeting preserves the attorney-client privilege. There is no parent-child privilege in Indiana. Therefore, if the parent is in the room, the information shared is no longer confidential. The parent could be called to testify against the child. However, if the attorney or court determines that the child cannot adequately participate in his or her defense, a parent may be present when necessary to assist with the representation. In that case, the presence of the parent will not generally affect the attorney-client privilege. Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.14, Comment 3.
The time alone with the attorney also allows the child to build trust with the attorney, enables the child to answer questions without the parent jumping in with answers, empowers the child to make some choices and decisions about what he or she wants in the case, and gives the child the opportunity to speak freely about his or her family and what is happening in the home.
To ensure that the child understands what is happening, the attorney must provide information about the case using appropriate words and methods for the client’s needs. Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 1.4, Comments 5 and 6.
Ultimately, the child alone has the power to decide whether to admit or deny the allegations in the petition alleging delinquency, and whether the child is going to testify. Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(a). Throughout the case, the child remains the client and his or her opinions and decisions must have priority. Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 1.14, Comment 3.