People v. Austin M.

This brief concerned a juvenile in Illinois in a delinquency proceeding whose defense lawyer also acted as a guardian ad litem (GAL) per instruction from the court. Juvenile Law Center, along with the Youth Law Center, National Juvenile Defender Center, Children and Family Justice Center, and Loyola Civitas Child Law Center, argued that a juvenile cannot receive quality legal representation from a lawyer who is also a GAL because the two roles are contradictory. A GAL must act in his client’s “best interest,” and attorneys who act as GALs may provide ineffective assistance of counsel. The brief further argued that the Supreme Court’s guarantee of a juvenile’s right to counsel from In re Gault means the right to an advocate acting in his client’s defense, not in his “best interests.”

In August 2010, the Appellate Court affirmed Austin’s adjudication and the Illinois Supreme Court granted appellate review in February 2011. Juvenile Law Center again filed an amicus brief with its partners arguing that children have the same zealous right to advocacy as adults charged with crimes and that Austin’s attorney’s dual role as defense counsel and guardian ad litem created a per se conflict. 

In an opinion dated August 30, 2012, the Supreme Court of Illinois reversed the the judgments of the circuit and appellate courts.  Specifically, the Court reversed Austin's adjudication of delinquincy based on the finding that the legal representation Austin received at his delinquency trial was not the type of counsel guaranteed by due process and the Illinois Juvenile Court Act.  Having reversed Austin's conviction, the Court remanded the cause to the circuit court for a new trial.


Related News

"Illinois Supreme Court ruling hailed as win for juveniles," Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, 9/18/12

"Hybrids don't work in juvenile court," Juvenile Law Center blog post, 8/31/12