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Although a number of juvenile justice advocates and scholars have decried the prevalence of juvenile waiver of right to counsel, no one has undertaken a comprehensive study of the problem. This Article attempts to fill that gap. The Article begins with a review of the historical context in which juvenile right to counsel arose and proceeds to a discussion of the landmark In re Gault decision and the due process underpinnings of juvenile right to counsel. The Article then chronicles the long-standing practice of permitting juveniles to waive their right to counsel and shows that the vast majority of nearly one hundred post-Gault waiver of counsel cases were overturned on appeals, and those that were upheld are largely indistinguishable from those that were overturned. The Article next examines the work of developmental psychologists, which reveals that juveniles as a class have limited decision-making abilities, lack an adequate understanding of their legal rights, and as a result are incapable of exercising an effective waiver. The Article concludes that permitting juveniles to waive their right to counsel constitutes a denial of that right and, accordingly, that due process prohibits juvenile courts from accepting waivers of counsel by juveniles against whom delinquency petitions have been filed.

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54 Fla. L. Rev. 577 (2002).