Breaking: Big Victory for Juvenile Defenders in Illinois

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Update from the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC):

Today, the Illinois Supreme Court issued their opinion in In re Austin M., reversing the decisions of the lower courts and remanding the case for new trial.  The decision is a great victory for the juvenile defense community!  The court held that it is a per se conflict of interest for an attorney to simultaneously function as both defense counsel and guardian ad litem (GAL) in a juvenile delinquency proceeding.

The court found that although the trial court never expressly appointed Austin’s attorney to act as GAL, both the trial court and the attorney perceived that to be his role.  The court agreed with Austin, that his attorney misperceived the role of juvenile defense counsel to be some type of hybrid, and as such he functioned as both GAL and defense counsel.  In so doing, counsel did not live up to his duty to provide zealous advocacy, in violation of Austin’s due process rights and the Illinois Juvenile Court Act.

Additionally, the court noted “[W]hen a minor is charged with a criminal offense – particularly one which may subject him or her to a lifetime of collateral consequences – the minor is entitled to an attorney who is dedicated to providing the minor with a zealous defense, an attorney who will hold the prosecution to its burden of proof.”

Notably, two justices who filed concurring and dissenting opinions, agreed that Austin’s delinquency adjudication should be reversed, but disagreed with the majority’s holding that the State had met its burden of proof and the decision to remand for a new trial. They instead held the evidence presented was insufficient to prove Austin guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Congratulations to Jackie Bullard with the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender, on a well fought victory, and to all of the attorneys and advocates who were involved in this case. In coming to this decision, the court also relied on an amicus brief filed by Loyola Civitas Childlaw Center; the Northwestern University School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center; the Juvenile Law Center; and the National Juvenile Defender Center.

The opinion is available at: http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2012/111194.pdf