A panel of judges has apparently made Washington the first state to rule that juvenile students accused of chronically cutting classes in public schools are entitled to a lawyer in their first court hearing.
The Washington state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that denying a juvenile the right to a lawyer from the outset violated constitutional requirements.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County prosecutor's office, said the ruling was under review and no decision had been made on whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
If it stands, the decision could make Washington the first state in which a juvenile is entitled to counsel at the outset of court truancy proceedings that could lead to penalties, said Paul M. Holland, director of the Ronald A. Peterson Law Clinic at Seattle University, which represented the student in the case.
"I am not aware of any states that provide lawyers at the initial stage of truancy proceedings," Holland said. "That is the most noteworthy part of this ruling."
He said it also is part of a growing body of law that recognizes the right to an attorney in certain civil matters as well as the well-established requirement for representation in criminal cases.
Under the law, a juvenile with at least seven unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a school year could be ordered to appear in Juvenile Court on a petition by school officials or the youngster's parents without being represented by an attorney.
The appeals court's decision was hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a brief supporting the juvenile, a Bellevue girl identified only as E.S. and described as an emotionally troubled member of a refugee family from Bosnia.