The right not to be incompetent while tried is a right that has been labeled "fundamental to an adversary system."1 It is a right afforded to all criminal defendants by the United States Constitution.2 It is also a right that most jurisdictions have extended to juveniles being processed in the juvenile justice system. 3 While most states provide juveniles the right not to be incompetent while tried, the issue of what standard should apply to juveniles is a controversial one. Typically, jurisdictions have extended the adult legal standard for competency, known as the Dusky standard,4 to juveniles. 5 However, many jurisdictions have modified the Dusky standard to better fit the needs of the system and the perceived required abilities of juveniles. With regard to the competency standard, one issue of particular controversy is whether a juvenile's youth, either in terms of years or psychological development, should be allowed to influence the competency decision. Some jurisdictions have explicitly held that juveniles may not be found incompetent on the basis of immaturity,6 while others allow just the opposite. 7 In addition, some jurisdictions have actually lowered the standard for competency in juvenile court, at least partially out of recognition that juveniles are less mature than adults.8 The purpose of this Note is to explore whether a juvenile's immaturity should impact the legal decision of competency to stand trial. Part II serves as an introduction to the basis of the competency right and its extension to juveniles. Part III attempts to answer the question of what are juveniles' legal abilities? Part III includes an analysis of what abilities are required for a defendant to be competent to stand trial, a discussion of what impact immaturity may have on juveniles, and a review and analysis of relevant social science research that evaluates juveniles' legal abilities. Part IV brings the analysis back to the law, beginning with a description of the law's current treatment of immaturity in juvenile court, and ending with an analysis of whether immaturity should play a role. Part V concludes by reviewing the main arguments in favor of legitimizing immaturity as a source of incompetence and introduces the questions that legitimizing immaturity would raise.
Twila A. Wingrove,
Is Immaturity a Legitimate Source of Incompetence to Avoid Standing Trial in Juvenile Court?,
86 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol86/iss2/8