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ACLU: Pattern of Inadequate Legal Defense for WA Juveniles

The ACLU of Washington says children in Grays Harbor County have routinely been held in detention without adequate legal representation. (AlexRaths/iStockphoto)
The ACLU of Washington says children in Grays Harbor County have routinely been held in detention without adequate legal representation. (AlexRaths/iStockphoto)
April 10, 2017

SEATTLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington says children charged with crimes aren't getting the legal help they deserve, and it wants the state to change that.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit last week against the Office of Public Defense for allegedly failing to provide proper legal representation for children in Grays Harbor County, and Doug Honig, the ACLU’s communications director in Washington, says it's a problem statewide.

He says the issue is especially critical because it involves the population most in need of a proper defense.

"This is really important to young people, because what happens to them as juveniles can set them on a path of being productive, contributing members of society as an adult, or can really set them up to fail," Honig explains.

The Office of Public Defense, or OPD, says it's unable to comment because of the pending litigation.

OPD is set up to ensure that indigent Washingtonians receive legal counsel.

Honig says it's within the office's authority to make sure no one is denied his or her constitutional right to due process.

Honig adds OPD is a competent agency, but the ACLU has spent months investigating the issue and concluded that many counties need improvement. He says the Grays Harbor County case is being used as example because of some of the practices the ACLU has seen there.

"We've seen children routinely held in detention, in bails amounts that aren't challenged,” he points out. “They haven't been receiving adequate communication with their lawyer. They haven't been adequately advised of their rights. They're failing to receive adequate investigations of the facts of their case, and the sentencing options."

The ACLU of Washington also is suing Grays Harbor County on behalf of a youth who was placed in solitary confinement in the county's juvenile detention facility more than 40 times between 2013 and 2016.



Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA