Juvenile CST article by Thomas Riffin

Competence to Stand Trial Evaluations with Juveniles

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Thomas Riffin, Psy.D.

Competence to stand trial evaluations of juvenile defendants pose considerable challenges to the court clinician. There is an inherent paradox in the fact that we are evaluating children and adolescents, who frequently have very different clinical presentations from their adult counterparts, with statutes and case law standards that have been developed for adults. This raises many questions for the examiner. Do we use the same threshold when applying the legal standards? Do we include input from the parents or guardians who would normally be making decisions for their minor children? Do we compare the functional abilities of these children and adolescents to those of same age peers, or to those of competent adults? Does the threshold level for adjudicative competence become more stringent as the stakes of the case increase?

These questions, in part, arise out of the changing landscape of the juvenile court. As the juvenile court has evolved, particularly in recent years, the tension or ambivalence between the pre-Gault1 Court, with an emphasis on parens patriae2 and rehabilitation, has come face-to-face with the focus on punishment, retribution and public safety, particularly when trying younger minors as adults; thus, the need to ensure the procedural rights of the defendant.

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