AuthorBerryessa, Colleen M.

INTRODUCTION I. JUVENILE LEGAL COMPETENCY II. ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO COMPETENCY III. JUVENILE JUDGES AND DETERMINING JUVENILE COMPETENCY IV. MATERIALS AND METHODS A. Partie ipant Selection B. Data Collection C. Interview Protocol D. Data Analysis E. Demographics V. RESULTS A. Factors that Influence the Determination of Juvenile Competency 1. Age 2. Awareness 3. Evidence and History 4. Mental Capacity 5. Evaluations B. Perceptions of How Adolescent Development Influences Juvenile Behavior 1. Increased Social Susceptibility 2. Irrational Behavior and Immaturity 3. Lack of a Developed Value System C. Judges' Application of Adolescent Development to Juvenile Competency 1. Judges Who Do Not Consider Adolescent Development Important to Competency 2. Judges Who Consider Adolescent Development Important to Competency D. Opinions on Age of Competency-Related Abilities E. Training on Adolescent Development and Psycho-social Maturity VI. DISCUSSION CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH INTRODUCTION

In recent years, there have been vocal concerns about whether juvenile competency to stand trial in juvenile delinquency proceedings can be effectively measured by the Dusky two-prong test. (1) According to this test, a juvenile must first understand the charges and legal proceedings that are mounted against him, and, second, he must also be able to assist his lawyer in his own defense. (2) Regardless of jurisdiction, a judge evaluating a juvenile's competency may examine the juvenile's maturity. (3) This may include an assessment of the juvenile's ability to understand the long-term consequences of his actions and decisions in court, and his susceptibility to being excessively influenced by others, including his lawyer. (4) Each of these competency-related abilities is dependent on the juvenile's psycho-social maturity and developmental status and, particularly, changes in the juvenile's cognitive abilities resulting from neurological changes in adolescence and early adulthood. (5)

An appreciation of the extent to which a juvenile offender possesses competency-related abilities, especially by the juvenile judge ultimately making the competency determination, is necessary to ensure that the juvenile offender's case can be adjudicated without coercion in a "developmentally appropriate way." (6) Therefore, understanding the ways in which juvenile judges consider research on adolescent development that is likely relevant to juvenile competency determinations is integral to ensuring fair and equitable outcomes for juvenile offenders. Further, this understanding may assist states that are considering developing or modifying juvenile competency statutes, as well as help in the design of more tailored and effective educational programs for judges on these issues. (7)

This Article, which is exploratory as the first of its kind in in-depth qualitative analysis, considers the attitudes of juvenile judges regarding competency to stand trial in relation to their understandings and perceptions of adolescent development and psycho-social maturity. Presenting a qualitative analysis of twenty-seven interviews with a national sample of juvenile judges, we reveal the factors that judges find influential in determining juvenile competency, (8) judges' understandings of existing research on adolescent development, (9) and judges' views on the influence of age on competency and developmental-maturity-related abilities. (10) We find that although data show that research on and understandings of adolescent development do play a large role in shaping judges' understanding of juvenile behavior, (11) the majority of judges only connected these characteristics to offending and did not suggest that adolescent development is important to them in assessing juvenile competency. (12) Thus, the data presented indicate that many judges consider juvenile competency as largely unrelated to adolescent development and do not see a connection between the two. (13) This research does have limitations, as it only portrays the views of twenty-seven self-selected individuals, sampling was not nationally representative, and it is unknown how the views presented here may actually impact juvenile competency determinations in practice. As such, future studies, particularly those that use research designs with experimental components that may provide methodological triangulation on these issues, are warranted.

Nonetheless, we argue that the fact that many judges in our study do not consider adolescent development as relevant to competency determinations, yet still indicate that juveniles exhibit attributes due to adolescent development that diminish competency-related abilities, shows a cognitive disconnect in judges' perceptions on how adolescent development may affect competency. (14) In response, in order to adjudicate juvenile cases in a "developmentally appropriate way," these results indicate the need for further research and more direct education and training of judges on the role of adolescent development in not only offending, but also in competency. (15) This analysis provides the first in-depth empirical qualitative inquiry on how juvenile judges perceive research on adolescent development and how it might affect the competency evaluation process.


    Competency to stand trial is a legal protection put forth to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial. (16) Standards of competency for criminal defendants were formalized in the landmark case Dusky v. United States, which established that competency to stand trial in criminal court involves two elements: (1) defendants must be able to assist their attorneys in mounting their defenses, and (2) defendants must fully understand court proceedings and the charges against them. (17) This is contrasted with legal capacity, which is a person's ability to make particular legal decisions such as entering a guilty plea or entering into a contract, and legal culpability, which is a person's blameworthiness for a criminal act and to what degree he should be held responsible. (18)

    In criminal court, adult defendants are typically declared incompetent due to severe mental illness or an intellectual disability. (19) In the juvenile court setting, competency to stand trial played no role until 1967. (20) The legal rights of juveniles were not originally viewed as relevant within the juvenile court system given its rehabilitative purpose. (21) The juvenile court system was a product of the Progressive Movement beginning in the late nineteenth century, which pushed for the creation of an independent legal system for youth that was neither criminal nor adversarial in nature. (22) The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois, and by 1928, all but two states had a juvenile justice system. (23) The initial purpose of the system was to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and protect children from maltreatment. (24) Particularly, the creation of an independent system for juvenile offenders was built upon the principle that age and immaturity rendered juveniles less culpable compared to adults and, hence, capable of becoming good members of the community if offered suitable rehabilitation. (25) Thus, treatment and protection of the child were considered the best responses to delinquent behavior, as opposed to traditional punishment. (26)

    The latter half of the twentieth century saw a gradual increase in legal protections for juveniles generally and their rights found within the adult court setting. Initially, Dusky only applied to defendants tried in criminal court and did not extend to juvenile defendants in juvenile court. (27) However, In re Gault established juvenile rights to a fair trial and due process, including a right to an attorney, the right to be protected against self-incrimination, the right to an appeal, and most importantly in this context, the fundamental right to competency to stand trial in juvenile court. (28) The constitutional right of competency to stand trial and the potential extension of the Dusky standard suddenly became relevant to juveniles and a meaningful aspect of the juvenile justice adjudication process. (29)

    As competency to stand trial has become a significant component of juvenile justice, issues have been raised as to how the Dusky standards of competency should be practically applied to juveniles. While competency requires that juveniles be able to understand the nature of their charges and assist in mounting a defense, states have been largely silent regarding whether Dusky standards should apply equally to defendants in juvenile court. (30) Although several states have formally implemented statutes regarding competency to stand trial in juvenile court, around twenty states continue to process defendants in juvenile court without a well-defined statutory competency standard. (31) Among the states that have adopted juvenile competency statutes, thirteen have adopted the Dusky standard almost verbatim, while eighteen states have adopted a version of the Dusky standard. (32)

    The addition of the Dusky standard to juvenile law has left many questions unanswered, particularly whether developmental immaturity should be integrated into competency standards. (33) While both adults and juveniles can be mentally ill or disabled, one unique and pertinent feature of the juvenile population is that their adolescent development, as well as their psycho-social immaturity, has the potential to influence competency. (34) A few states, such as Arkansas and Florida, have juvenile competency statute provisions related to developmental immaturity. (35) However, despite these statutory provisions, juvenile judges have no real guidelines on how to consider the impact of developmental factors, such as age and maturity, on adolescent development in competency determinations, either apart from or alongside the Dusky...

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