In April of 2012, the Department of Justice issued a stinging report, alleging that the Shelby County Juvenile Court has systematically violated the due process rights of children and failed to offer equal protection to African American children.
After six months of negotiations, the DOJ and the Court came to an agreement designed to transform the system and avoid a potentially long and expensive lawsuit.
This marks the first time the DOJ has moved against a juvenile court system, calling national attention to Shelby County and how it responds. The agreement requires the county to create a new model for juvenile justice, as it is in uncharted territory.
Changes to the court are already in progress, but one of the most critical, and, therefore, one of the most expensive, components is the juvenile defense function. The DOJ has specified that primary responsibility for juvenile defense will be transferred to the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender. Previously, juvenile defense was handled by a panel of private attorneys, reimbursed by the State. This marks the first time the Public Defender’s Office has been responsible for juvenile defense since the 1970s.
The Juvenile Defender Unit has been in operation since 2013 and includes teams of specially trained juvenile defenders, social workers and investigators.
Portions of this narrative were republished from an article we submitted to the Memphis Bar Association’s ‘Memphis Lawyer’ magazine. It ran as the cover story for the February 2013 edition. Click here for the full article.