Competence

competencyA juvenile’s competence to stand trial ties together the most recent adolescent development research with long-standing notions of fundamental due process. The National Juvenile Defense Standards, Standard 1.7 Role of Counsel Regarding Competence of Youth to Stand Trial provides that “[defense] [c]ounsel must be able to recognize when the client may not by competent to stand trial and take appropriate action,” and that “[c]ounsel must assess whether the client’s level of functioning limits his or her ability to communicate effectively with counsel, as well as his or her ability to have a factional and rational understanding of the proceedings.” Further, the commentary on this Standard asserts that, “[j]uvenile defenders should approach competency issues with deliberation and caution. Whatever the finding, the decision can have short- and long-term implications on client autonomy, placement, and services.”

Accordingly, defenders must be well versed in the statutes and case law governing juvenile competence in their jurisdiction. When defenders have reason to doubt a client’s competence, they should use experts, such as psychologists, to testify as to their clients’ competency, and should not rely on the state’s expert in making the determination.

Additional Resources on Juvenile Competency to Stand Trial:

Juvenile’s Competence to Stand Trial: A Comparison of Adolescents’ and Adults’ Capacity to Stand Trial
Thomas Grisso, Laurence Steinberg, Jennifer Woolard, Elizabeth Cauffman, Elizabeth Scott, Sandra Graham, Fran Lexcen, N. Dickon Reppucci, and Robert Schwartz

Considerations in the Assessment of Competent to Proceed in Juvenile Court
Randy K. Otto

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