Urban Legal Clinic (ULC) students Kelly Targett ’09 and Matt Coleman ’09, supervised by Clinical Professor Laura Cohen, recently spearheaded a successful amicus curiae effort in In re P.M.P., a juvenile delinquency case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in July 2009.
The ULC amicus brief, which was co-authored by the National Juvenile Defender Center and signed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Northeast Juvenile Defender Center, and the Rutgers–Camden Children’s Justice Clinic, argued that cutting-edge adolescent psychological and brain development research establishes that young people are particularly vulnerable to overreaching by police and other adults. They further do not understand their constitutional rights or the consequences of waiving those rights, thus requiring access to counsel from the earliest stages of a delinquency case. The brief also included a 50-state survey of statutes, court rules, and case law governing the right to counsel in juvenile court proceedings.
A 5-2 majority of the Court held that the right to counsel attaches as early as the filing of the delinquency complaint and issuance of an arrest warrant and cannot be waived except in the presence of and after consultation with a defense attorney. As a result of the Court’s decision, a statement that P.M.P. made during a post-complaint custodial interrogation was suppressed. More generally, the opinion ensures that, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in In re Gault, children’s right to counsel — and the advocacy, advice, and assistance embedded in that right — will be vigilantly protected throughout the course of delinquency proceedings.
This re-affirmation of children’s due process rights was heralded by legal experts and newspapers across the state, including an editorial in the Star-Ledger.