Assessing a juvenile’s competency to stand trial


Today, as with the case of adult offenders in a court’s criminal proceedings, an inquiry must equally be made to determine a juvenile’s ability to stand trial in the allegations labeled against him. The criteria for this determination was outlined in a precedent set by the US Supreme Court as in the case of Dusky Vs the State in 1960. Some of the questions addressed in this procedure were the ability of a juvenile offender to consult with his lawyer in a manner that brings about a rational understanding, and whether the defendant had a rational understanding of the proceedings that were taking place. In regard to this, this paper, therefore, seeks to educate on the importance of psychological research in a court setting and how a forensic psychology professional can use such a research during the process of assessing a juvenile defendant’s competency to stand trial in a court of law.

According to the to the research conducted by MacArthur Foundation Research On Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, Issue Brief One, the organization focused on a series of queries and other hypothetical legal occurrences and compared adult and the youth responses. Among the situation compared were police interrogations, plea bargains, and the attorney- client interactions. Consequently, their responses were measured against their ability to weigh risks, other factors related to developmental and cognitive maturity and their ability to understand the long-term consequences of their decisions.

The result of this research study indicated that a good number of the youths especially below the age of fifteen were likely to participate incompetently in trials in which they are involved both in the adult and in juvenile courts. This was due to developmental immaturity. This research was particularly to test whether such age groups were to be fully responsible for the offenses they commit and not their criminal blameworthiness. The research network that interviewed about 1,400 individuals between age 11-24 concluded that this age group lacked the capacity to stand for their trial in court.

The first standard assessment tool was the test against functional abilities that included the ability to understand the nature and purpose of the trial, ability to apply information in one’s situation, and the capability to provide the relevant information to the counsel involved. This assessment indicated that age matters a lot in trials. This with lesser ages performed poorer than their counterparts up in the age bracket ladder. The second assessment was emotional maturity in making decisions related to legal matters. In this case, the younger age bracket exhibited a low level of maturity in three hypothetical situations that included response to police interrogation, information discloser in the case of attorney’s probing, and response to a plea argument.

A forensic psychologist can, therefore, use the findings in this research when assessing a juvenile competency to stand trial in two major ways. First, based on this research, the psychologist will be able to determine the cognitive as well as the behavioral elements of the defendant to determine the sufficiency of the intellectual functioning for an effective expressive and receptive communication based on a plain language level. The psychologist will also be able to determine the rational understanding of the defendant that enables him to understand the seriousness of the pending charges and the long-term and short-term consequences related to any outcome that may arise.





Grisso, T., Steinberg, L., Woolard, J., Cauffman, E., Scott, E., Graham, S., … & Schwartz, R. (2003). Juveniles’ competence to stand trial: a comparison of adolescents’ and adults’ capacities as trial defendants. Law and human behavior, 27(4), 333.,. (2014). Assessing juveniles’ competence to stand trial | The National Psychologist. Retrieved 1 February 2016, from





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