Trenton – Legislation authored and led by Senator Nellie Pou, which would expand the Office of Public Defender (OPD) representation of juveniles, cleared the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee today. This bill previously passed the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee by a vote of 4-0, and it now awaits the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approval before heading to the Senate floor.
The bill, S-896/A-2396, would apply to any person under 18 years of age who is arrested or charged with an indictable offense. That person would automatically be eligible, at no expense to that person, for representation by the Office of the Public Defender (OPD).
“Today, a juvenile’s right to a public defender is not a guarantee,” said Senator Nellie Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Instead it’s dependent on their guardian, their guardian’s finances and their guardian’s willingness to apply for OPD services. But what if their guardian is involved in the incident, what if the guardian has skin in the game, what if they aren’t looking out for the juvenile, but themselves? When a young person is indicted, their fate should not be influenced by anything but their own actions.”
According to the National Juvenile Defender Center, eleven states now provide every child accused of an offense with an attorney, regardless of financial status.
“Juveniles are inherently vulnerable and therefore we must demand that they are afforded the same right to representation that adults possess, without exception. This bill would be that guarantee,” Senator Pou said.
The bill passed the Assembly Committee by a vote of 7-0-1.