Young people accused of crimes in Colorado are guaranteed access to a defense attorney under a bill signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday.
It has been more than four decades since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children have a right to counsel.
Colorado courts see more than 9,000 juvenile cases a year, but in recent years, nearly half of the young defendants did not have a lawyer.
With this new law, Colorado joins a nationwide effort, Kim Dvorchak says.
Dvorchak is the executive director for the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, a nonprofit which lobbied hard for the legislation.
"There’s a national movement to ensure the right to counsel for children, particularly at initial hearings where significant decisions are made that really set the stage for the course of the case," she says.
The new law provides for a public defender for families who don’t hire a private attorney, or for children in state custody.
The bill passed in the Legislature with bi-partisan support.