Juveniles' Competence to Stand Trial: A Comparison of Adolescents' and Adults' Capacities as Trial Defendants

Juveniles' Competence to Stand Trial: A Comparison of Adolescents' and Adults' Capacities as Trial Defendants

While every state allows children under the age of sixteen to be tried in court as adults, a new report from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice argues that a significant proportion of that group isn't able to grasp the judicial process and contribute to their own defense. Researchers arrived at that conclusion after interviewing and testing some 1,400 people between the ages of 11 and 24. The results, as reported in Juveniles' Competence to Stand Trial: A Comparison of Adolescents' and Adults' Capacities as Trial Defendants (66 pages, PDF), reveal that roughly one-third of the 11- to 13-year-olds and a fifth of the 14- and 15-year-olds demonstrated a level of understanding about trials and the legal process that was comparable to mentally ill adults, a group that has been found not competent to stand trial. In light of these and other findings, the research network's director, Laurence Steinberg, suggest that states need to reconsider the minimum age for juveniles to be tried as adults and/or develop a system for evaluating their competence.