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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Competency

Competency: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 


  • Michigan  — Legislature Sets Juvenile Competency Standards for Michigan Courts: Michigan passed two laws that set new competency standards for juvenile proceedings. The laws establish a presumption of incompetence for any child under age 10, and a process for attorneys to raise competency issues for youth 10 and older in juvenile court; require that examiners have experience and expertise in child and adolescent forensic evaluations; require use of the Juvenile Adjudicative Competency Interview (JACI) or similarly-approved evaluative instrument; require youth to be placed in the least restrictive environment while awaiting and undergoing evaluations; and create an avenue for competency restoration before prosecution proceeds, or, in some cases, provision of mental health services if competency cannot be restored. S.B. 246/Act No. 541 and H.B. 4555/Act No. 540, signed into law January 2, 2013; effective March 28, 2013.
  • South Dakota Adds Competency Protections for Youth with Mental Illness or Developmental Disability: South Dakota now allows a youth, the state, or the court to raise the issue of a youth’s competency to proceed at any point in a juvenile case if there is reasonable cause to believe the youth is suffering from a mental illness or developmental disability that renders the youth incompetent to proceed. If the court finds that a competency determination is necessary, it must order an evaluation of the youth by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist within 30 days. All proceedings must be suspended pending the outcome of the competency determination. Examiners must evaluate the youth’s capacity to understand the allegations in the petition, ability to understand the nature of the adversarial process, understand the range of possible dispositions, effectively assist his or her attorney, and testify in court. H.B. 1073/Act No. 121, signed into law March 4, 2013; effective July 1, 2013.

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  • Delaware Takes Steps to Ensure Competency of Youth: Delaware established procedures to ensure competency of youth to stand trial in family court. The law allows any party or the court itself to raise a concern as to whether a youth is competent to proceed at trial, and requires that the youth be examined by at least one mental disability expert if the court determines the youth’s competence to be an issue. The evaluator must submit a report to the court that addresses the youth’s ability to understand the nature of the proceedings, give evidence, and instruct counsel on his or her own behalf; notes any mental illnesses, disabilities, or chronological immaturities; and specifies any conditions that would prevent competency from improving with treatment. The law prohibits statements made by a youth during the competency evaluation from being later admitted as evidence at trial. If the court finds the youth not to be competent, it must provide services or treatment to restore competency. If the youth does not become competent to stand trial, the law outlines timelines for dismissal of the charges, depending on their severity.  H.B. 253/Act No. 241, signed into law and effective May 21, 2012.
  • Utah Establishes Standards and Procedures for Juvenile Competency Proceedings: Utah enacted new standards and procedures for juvenile competency proceedings. A motion for an inquiry into a youth’s competency may be filed by the youth, the prosecutor, a guardian ad litem, or any person having custody of the youth, or the court may raise the issue at any time. The court may order an evaluation of a youth, to be followed by a competency hearing. Any statement made by the youth during the evaluation may not be used as evidence of guilt for the underlying charge. If it is determined that the youth is incompetent, but that competency may be attained, the youth must be held in the least restrictive setting during the implementation of an “attainment plan.” If the youth does not attain competency within one year of a finding of incompetency, the case must be dismissed without prejudice. H.B. 393 Substitute/Act No. 316, signed into law March 22, 2012; effective May 8, 2012.

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  • Idaho  Legislature Establishes Standards for Competency Evaluations: Prior to new legislation in Idaho, youth who were believed to be incompetent to stand trial were evaluated and treated based on the state’s adult competency statute. New legislation acknowledges the inappropriateness of applying the adult standard to youth, noting unique issues related to youth’s developmental, mental, and emotional maturity. Additionally, the law recognizes that costly restrictive confinement is often unnecessary for youth in such a situation; however, commitment is mandated in Idaho for adults determined to be incompetent. Under the legislation, if the juvenile court determines that there is good cause to believe that a youth is incompetent to proceed, it must stay all proceedings and appoint a psychiatrist or psychologist to evaluate the youth’s mental condition and report to the court. The law outlines indicators of competency, factors to be considered in the evaluation, items to be included in the report, and how the court should proceed depending on the conclusion of the report, allowing for community-based services when appropriate. H.B. 140/Ch. 178, signed into law April 5, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
  • Maine Law Provides for Evaluation of Juvenile Competency: Recognizing the urgent need for a means to assess juvenile competency, a new Maine law provides for an evaluation of competency in juvenile cases and allows for suspension of proceedings in order to conduct a competency evaluation. The law requires the State Forensic Examiner to address the youth’s capacity and ability to understand the allegations and proceedings and to effectively engage with counsel. Any statements made by the youth during the competency evaluation may not be used as evidence during an adjudicatory hearing. If the evaluation finds that there is no substantial probability that the youth will be competent in the foreseeable future, the juvenile court petition must be Dismissed or the adjudication vacated, and the youth must then be served through the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than the Division of Juvenile Services. H.P. 1039/L.D. 1413/Public Law 282, signed into law and effective June 9, 2011.

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  • California — Minors with Questionable Mental Competency Receive Right to Hearing: California law now requires the court to suspend proceedings if doubt is expressed as to a youth’s sufficient present ability to rationally and factually understand the nature of the proceedings or assist his or her attorney in mounting a defense. The court must then order a hearing to determine the youth’s competency. The court must appoint an expert in the field of juvenile adjudicative competency to evaluate whether the youth suffers from a mental disorder, developmental disability, or developmental immaturity and, if so, whether the condition impairs the youth’s competency. Lastly, if the youth is found to be incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence, all proceedings must remain suspended until the youth becomes competent or the court no longer retains jurisdiction. A.B. 2212/Ch. 671, signed into law September 30, 2010; effective January 1, 2011.

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Photo: Alex Panoiu, under Creative Commons License