On May 2, 2017, I testified in front of the Oregon Senate Judiciary committee in support of HB 2616, which would require that delinquent youth be appointed an attorney rather than just be informed of their right to counsel. Here is my testimony:
Chair Prozanski and members of the committee. My name Meghan Bishop and I have been an attorney since 2008. Beginning in 2009, I started representing parents and children involved in child welfare and delinquency matters. I have represented hundreds of these clients in 12 Oregon Counties. In addition to direct representation, I am the president-elect of the OSB Juvenile Law Executive Committee, a member of the OCDLA Juvenile Law Committee and participated in the National Juvenile Defender Center Intensive Juvenile Training Immersion Program at Georgetown University in 2015. The testimony I present today is my own and I am not here on behalf of any of the committees I am involved in.
I am thrilled to be speaking to you today in support of HB2616, which would ensure counsel for all youth involved in the delinquency system in Oregon. Passage of this bill is especially meaningful this year, as just 13 days from now we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Gault decision, which ensured access to attorneys for children as well as other requirements of due process. In the decision, Justice Fortas wrote, “Due process of law is the primary and indispensable foundation of individual freedom. It is the basic and essential term in the social compact which defines the rights of the individual and delimits the powers which the state may exercise…It is these instruments of due process which enhance the possibility that truth will emerge from the confrontation of opposing versions and conflicting data.” Since that landmark case, courts throughout the country have acknowledged that not only should children involved in the justice system be afforded the same access to due process as adults, that in some cases, children should be afforded more rights because, as the Supreme Court has concluded, children are different.
When I represent a child, it doesn’t matter if the case involves stealing a slice of pizza or involves sexual abuse – the issues related to the child are the same. In order to adequately represent a child client, I have to have a deep understanding of brain development, adolescent development, potential collateral consequences such as being expelled from school or having to register as a sex offender. Then I also have to understand the resources available to the family in the particular county in which they reside in order to assist in crafting a disposition that will ensure that the child be successful. I have a JD and spend hours upon hours every year in trainings and reading the latest research as well as case law to keep abreast of the current trends and even with all of that additional information, I can feel over my head at times and must reach out to others for assistance. I recently represented a child charged with very serious crimes. A critical issue in the case turned on whether or not the child understood the right to remain silent. During the child’s interrogation, the officer went over the standard Miranda warning, the officer did not explain to the child in age appropriate language what the child’s rights were, but did have the child read the rights. I met with the child multiple times in detention and eventually, in a meeting with the child and my investigator, the investigator noticed that the Miranda rights were written on the wall – he asked the child to read it and they tried, but then finally admitted they couldn’t read. With that information and with the assistance of an experienced forensic psychologist we were able to show that the child had a learning disability including a significant processing disorder that would make it very unlikely that the child understood the Miranda warning and unlikely that the child could voluntarily and knowingly give up those rights.
Just think about all those steps that we, as an experienced legal team, had to take to come to the conclusion that this child’s rights were violated. The delinquency process is complicated. The cases are complicated. And the children are complicated. Many of my clients come from severely socio-economically depressed environments without the institutional support necessary for success. Once involved in the juvenile justice system, the child’s attorney becomes one of the handful of functional adults the child will meet during their formative years. The role of the attorney for a child is advocate, cheerleader and mentor, thus attorney-child client relationship is valuable on many levels and it is essential that a child be afforded, as a matter of law, the fundamental right of counsel. Therefore, I urge you to vote for HB2616.