Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Essence of Justice: Independent, Ethical, and Zealous Advocacy by Juvenile Defenders

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Essence of Justice: Independent, Ethical, and Zealous Advocacy by Juvenile Defenders

Article excerpt

I. Introduction......................................................................800

II. Why Memphis?.....................................................................802

A. The Nation Is Watching....................................................808

B. Zealous Advocacy: A Sufficiently Rigorous Challenge ....810

III. The Findings and the Memorandum of Agreement 812

A. Fundamental Misunderstandings About Roles..................813

B. Defender Services Must Be Independent...........................814

C. The Role of Defense Counsel.............................................815

IV. Goals and Priorities.........................................................818

A. A Unified Juvenile Defense Bar: Public and Private.......819

B. Local Standards of Practice.............................................819

C. Reasonable Workload Controls........................................820

D. Best-Practices Advocacy...................................................824

E. Community Engagement...................................................826

F. Commitment to Systemic Reform......................................827

V. Conclusion: Advocacy Is the Essence of Justice.........828

"The right to representation by counsel is not a formality. It is not a grudging gesture to a ritualistic requirement. It is of the essence of justice."

-Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541,561 (1966) (Fortas, J.)

I. INTRODUCTION

In April 2012, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice completed its investigation of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County acting under the authority of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 19941 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.2 The investigation found serious and systemic failures that violate due-process rights and discriminate against African-American children.3 After more than a decade of deep investment from both the public and private sectors, many consider the Department's unprecedented direct federal action in Shelby County as key to leveraging the next generation of juvenile-justice reform.4

This Article describes the Shelby County Public Defender's role in juvenile-justice reform in Memphis, Tennessee. Part I considers why the Department of Justice ("DOJ") took action here. Part II summarizes the DOJ's Findings and the Public Defender's obligations under the resulting Memorandum of Agreement ("Agreement"). Part III addresses the Public Defender's goals for establishing a unified specialty juvenile defense bar in Memphis and the priority areas where action is most necessary. The conclusion affirms that the Agreement reached in lieu of litigation is good news for this community and affirms the central importance of advocacy in making justice meaningful for the children of Memphis and Shelby County.5

II. Why Memphis?

The Department of Justice has been clear that the constitutional deficiencies found in Memphis exist in urban communities across the country.6 Not only is Memphis often cited as one of the most dangerous metropolitan areas in the United States,7 the city faces overwhelming challenges with respect to urban poverty and racial disparities. If federal action can drive successful reform in Memphis, it is a good indicator that similar interventions could be useful to initiate and guide reform elsewhere.

In 2013 Memphis was "the poorest among metro areas with populations of at least 1 million."8 Racial disparities also mark poverty in Memphis: "African-Americans in Memphis and Shelby County have higher poverty rates than the state and national averages for black people, while local non-Hispanic white residents have lower rates than those for the white populations of Tennessee and the U.S."9 Recent census data also shows that "the poverty rate for Hispanic residents in Memphis was 40.7[%]," while the rate for the entire county was 36.4%, making Hispanics the poorest ethnic group in the area. …

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