Nearly three dozen national, statewide, and local legal organizations have endorsed the first-ever Guidelines for representing children who face our country’s harshest penalty, which the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth released in March.

Trial Defense Guidelines: Representing a Child Client Facing a Possible Life Sentence was drafted in close collaboration with attorneys, mitigation experts, and advocates from across the nation. They seek to set forth a national standard of practice to ensure zealous, constitutionally effective representation consistent with the standards established by the Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama.

The Guidelines draw both from the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases in the capital context and the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) National Juvenile Defense standards in the juvenile court context.

“Children are constitutionally and developmentally different from adults, making the representation of children in adult court facing a life sentence a highly specialized area of legal practice,” said CFSY Litigation Counsel Heather Renwick, principal author of the Guidelines. “The U.S. Supreme Court has said that prosecutors and judges must take into account their child status when determining appropriate ways to hold children accountable when they are convicted of serious crimes.”

Leaders and experts in the field of youth defense say these Guidelines are essential if we are to ensure adequate due process for our children facing life in prison.

“It is unimaginable to me that a child facing the possibility of a life sentence in prison in the United States of America would not have the type of specialized defense counsel envisioned in the Trial Defense Guidelines,” said Patti Puritz, executive director of the National Juvenile Defense Center. “The Trial Defense Guidelines are long overdue and should be uniformly adopted across the nation.”

Deputy Director and Chief Counsel of Juvenile Law Center Marsha Levick stated, “Children and adults are fundamentally different. We all know that. But abolishing harsh sentences for youth in the adult criminal justice system is just the first step in reforming a broken system. Without effective and trained counsel, we risk losing the real fight for justice, which will unfold in courtrooms across the country. The Trial Defense Guidelines recognize that children need to be treated as children when facing a possible life in prison sentence. The Guidelines also will ensure a child receives a meaningful, individualized sentencing hearing before imposition of a sentence. To criminal defense lawyers everywhere: Keep these close!”

Read the Guidelines

See the list of endorsers

Read coverage of the Guidelines release