Competency is an individual's cognitive ability to comprehend and participate in legal proceedings. In cases involving juveniles, states are expanding procedural protections by making developmental immaturity a factor in findings of incompetency to stand trial. Absent statutory direction, courts in other states may also recognize and review juveniles for competence.
State Juvenile Competency Laws in the Criminal Justice System
- Due process requires that a criminal defendant be competent throughout the criminal proceeding.
- Developmental immaturity or mental disorder may make a juvenile less able to assist in their defense or to make important decisions as part of their defense.
- A John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Research Network study revealed juveniles are less likely to trust and communiate effectively with their lawyers, both of which are essential elements in establishing a legal defense.
- If at any point, there is a genuine doubt as to the defendant's competence to stand trial, the issue must be raised and the court may order an evaluation of the defendant.
- Juvenile competency laws typically direct how the issue of competency is to be raised and evaluated.