Eliminating the Competency Presumption in Juvenile Delinquency Cases

Since In Re Gault, judges in the United States have struggled with how to apply appropriate rules of procedure for juveniles. In its opinion, the Court in Gault underscored the importance of due process, stating that it “is the primary and indispensable foundation of individual freedom,” and that “the procedural rules which have been fashioned from the generality of due process are our best instruments for the distillation and evaluation of essential facts from the conflicting…data that life and our adversary methods present.”  In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 20 (1967).

Professor  David R. Katner (Tulane University – Law School) has posted Eliminating the Competency Presumption in Juvenile Delinquency Cases (24 Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 403 (2015)) on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

The legal presumption used in virtually all juvenile delinquency cases in the U.S. is that all juveniles are competent to stand trial. This article calls for the elimination of that legal presumption, which is historically based on the Dusky v. United States decision and in the adult criminal justice system. The recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court recognize the developmental and organic brain differences between adults and juveniles. Current research demonstrates a higher frequency rate of incompetence based on intellectual deficiencies among children when compared with adults found to be not legally competent to stand trial.

By eliminating the competency presumption for juveniles in both delinquency and adult criminal proceedings, the party seeking an adjudication would be responsible for establishing that the accused juvenile is in fact, competent to stand trial. Foreign jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America have long required higher thresholds — at least fourteen years of age — for holding juveniles accountable for criminal misconduct, none of them presuming that juveniles are competent to go to trial. In the alternative, by expanding the factors currently in use for determination of juvenile competency by adding developmental immaturity and mental illness, juvenile justice systems could identify the reduction of recidivist offending as the primary systemic objective.

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