The right to counsel in cases involving children is being addressed on several fronts in Indiana. The Indiana Supreme Court continues to consider the proposed early appointment of counsel rule that would require that all children in juvenile delinquency cases meet with an attorney prior to the child’s first appearance in court. The expectation is that the attorney will explain the child’s rights and the court procedures during that meeting. The child could still waive the right to counsel pursuant to IC 31-32-5-1, but the hope for proponents of the proposed rule is that the amount of children who choose that path would decrease. For more on the early appointment of counsel rule, see this prior post. All children accused of committing a delinquent act in Indiana have a right to counsel pursuant to IC 31-32-2-2(1).
On October 10, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral argument in In re G.P., a termination of parental rights case. During the underlying CHINS (abuse and neglect) case, the mother requested counsel, but the court did not appoint an attorney. The mother’s parental rights were later terminated, despite ongoing arguments that her Due Process rights were violated by the inaction of the trial court. Oral arguments may be viewed online at this link on October 10, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. EST. The Indiana Court of Appeals specifically asked for guidance from the Indiana Supreme Court or the legislature on how two statutes about the appointment of counsel work in conjunction — IC 31-32-4-3 and IC 31-34-4-6. The question posed by the Court of Appeals in footnote 2 is whether it is “mandatory to appoint counsel for indigent parents when requested but only for indigent parents, and only when requested?”
Finally, September 23, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court created the Commission to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services. The focus appears to be on augmenting the services provided by civil legal aid providers and pro bono groups.
It should be noted that juvenile delinquency, CHINS, and termination of parental rights cases are civil in nature. Any expansion of access to legal services in civil cases should include an ongoing discussion of increasing the number of attorneys available for cases involving children.