Capacities Related to Adjudicative Competence and Validity of Miranda Warnings (Cognitive and Psychosocial Development)
These studies demonstrate that on average, younger youth (15 and under) may be more likely to have impairments related to adjudicative competence and Miranda comprehension. These impairments are most likely due to the fact that they are still developing cognitive capacities (i.e., the capacity to think, reason, and process information). However, it is important to understand that older youth may demonstrate impairments as well, particularly if they have lower IQs or have learning disabilities. In addition, youth’s psychosocial immaturity (e.g., compliance with adults) makes them more vulnerable than adults to coercion in interrogation settings.
Jodi Viljoen & Ronald Roesch, Competence to Waive Interrogation Rights and Adjudicative Competence in Adolescent Defendants: Cognitive Development, Attorney Contact, and Psychological Symptoms, 29 Law & Hum. Behav. 723 (2005).
- The following study explored the relationship of youth’s cognitive development, psychological symptoms, and attorney-client contact to capacities related to adjudicative competency and Miranda waiver.
- Participants were 152 youth detained in a pre-trial detention facility (73 females and 79 males) between eleven and 17 years old.
- Interviews were conducted with youth over the course of two different sessions in the detention facility.
- In the first session, youth were given Grisso’s Instruments for Assessing Understanding and Appreciation of Miranda Rights, as well as an assessment of capacities related to adjudicative competence created by Roesch and colleagues: The Fitness Interview Test. In the second testing session, participants were given a battery of tests assessing cognitive abilities and psychological symptoms. Also, participants were asked how many times they met with their lawyer and how long they spent with their lawyer.
- Researchers had multiple research questions; however, some of the more significant results were:
- Older youth performed better on tests related to adjudicative competence and Miranda comprehension and reasoning than younger youth.
- Cognitive abilities (e.g., general intellectual ability) for youth who are eleven to 15 years old are significantly lower than for youth who are aged 16 and 17.
- Cognitive abilities were strongly related to participants’ performance on the tests related to adjudicative competence and Miranda comprehension and reasoning.
- Psychological symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, behavior problems) were not related to performance on Miranda instruments regarding adjudicative competence. However, a symptom of ADHD (e.g., excitation) was related to understanding of Miranda warnings, as well as communication with attorneys on a measure of adjudicative competence.
- Youth who had more contact with and time spent with attorneys demonstrated better understanding of adjudicative proceedings and Miranda warnings.
- Results suggest that teenagers are still developing cognitive abilities in adolescence. As a result, youth who are eleven to 15 years old are at a much higher risk of being found incompetent to stand trial.
- Also, due to still-developing cognitive capacities, younger youth are at a higher risk of not giving an “intelligent and knowing” Miranda waiver.
- Results also suggest that adolescents’s limitations in capacities related to adjudicative competence and Miranda comprehension are not generally a result of psychopathology, as is often the case with adults, although symptoms of ADHD may play a role in youth’s legal capacities.
- To investigate the influence of cognitive and psychosocial maturity on adjudicative-related capacities in adolescents.
- The sample consisted of: 927 youth ages eleven to 17, approximately half were detained in a detention facility or jail and half resided in the community with no current justice system involvement and 466 adults ages 18 to 24, approximately half were detained in a jail and half resided in the community with no current justice system involvement.
- Interviews were conducted in detention or jail settings for the detained participants and in a laboratory setting for community participants.
- A standardized measure, the MacCAT-CA, was used to evaluate individuals’ capacity to understand, reason about, and appreciate critical aspects related to capacities to serve as trial defendants.
- Another measure, the MacJen, used responses to different vignettes to assess the influence of psychosocial characteristics (e.g., compliance with authorities, risk perception, future orientation) on adolescents’s decision-making in the adjudicative context. The MacJen gives three different vignettes that ask youth about the choices they would make in certain legal contexts. The first vignette depicts a youth being asked to respond to a police interrogation. The second vignette asks a youth to decide on whether or not to disclose information to his attorney. The third vignette asks a youth to make a choice about whether or not to accept a plea agreement.
- Cognitive Development: Adolescents 15 years old and younger were significantly more cognitively impaired than 16- and 17-year-old adolescents and young adults in abilities related to competence to stand trial.
- Adolescents aged eleven to 13 years old showed the most significant impairments.
- 33% of the eleven- to 13-year-olds and 20% of the 14- to 15-year-olds were “as impaired in capacities relevant to adjudicative competence as are seriously mentally ill adults who would likely be considered incompetent to stand trial by clinicians who perform evaluations for courts (p. 356).”
- Also, adolescents with lower IQs demonstrated significant impairment in capacities.
- Psychosocial Development: Psychosocial characteristics such as compliance with authorities, risk appraisal and future orientation were found to influence adolescents’ decision-making in three different legal scenarios: confessing to the police, accepting a plea agreement and disclosing to an attorney.
- Youth 15 years old and younger were significantly more likely than older youth to make decisions that represented compliance with authorities and to choose options associated with higher risks.
- Those youth who were aged 14 years and younger were significantly less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their choices.
- Cognitive Development: Many youth, particularly younger youth and youth with low IQs, are at risk for not being competent to stand trial. Unlike with adult defendants where incompetence may be found due to mental retardation and/or mental illness, youth may be incompetent to stand trial due to developmental immaturity.
- Not only are youth more likely to be impaired in adjudicative capacities related to understanding, reasoning and appreciation, but psychosocial immaturity may make youth particularly vulnerable to poor decisions in legal contexts. For example: Youth’s tendencies to be more compliant with authorities may increase their vulnerability to police coercion. Also, youth’s lack of future orientation may impede their ability to fully understand the implications of waiving their right to silence when being interrogated by police.
- Researchers compared adolescents’s cognitive capacities with a composite measure of psychosocial maturity examining risk perception, sensation seeking, impulsivity, resistance to peer influence and future orientation.
- An experimental study conducted in a laboratory setting with a sample of 935 individuals, ages ten to 30 years. Participants were recruited from the community in several cities across the United States.
- To assess cognitive capacity, a battery of tests assessing basic cognitive skills was administered.
- To assess psychosocial maturity, researchers administered a combination of self-report questionnaires designed to measure risk preference, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, resistance to peer influence and future orientation.
- Findings support the theory that cognitive maturation and psychosocial maturation occur along different timetables.
- “By age 16, adolescents’ general cognitive abilities are essentially indistinguishable from those of adults, but adolescents’ psychosocial functioning, even at the age of 18, is significantly less mature than that of individuals in their mid-20s.” (p. 592)
- Researchers highlight that adolescents’ poor judgment is not necessarily a result of poor reasoning skills, but more closely linked to adolescents’ psychosocial development.
- “When it comes to decisions that permit more deliberative, reasoned decision-making, where emotional and social influences on judgment are minimized or can be mitigated, and where there are consultants who can provide objective information about the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action, adolescents are likely to be just as capable of mature decision-making as adults, at least by the time they are 16…
- In contrast, in situations that elicit impulsivity, that are typically characterized by high levels of emotional arousal or social coercion, or that do not encourage or permit consultation with an expert who is more knowledgeable…adolescent decision-making at least until they have turned 18 is likely to be less mature than adults.” (p. 592)