The Supreme Court has long considered competency to be a right of the criminal defendant in court. In many areas, insanity has been a criminal defense with a significant history. However, in the early part of this century, adult protections, including the competency requirement and common defenses like insanity, were not added into the juvenile court system. Because juvenile courts were established to protect juveniles from the rigors of adult court and punishments in adult facilities, states focused on achieving proceedings more compatible with juveniles' needs.
Over the last decade, many state legislatures have offered better options and procedures for handling delinquent juveniles. Many states have also extended their juvenile codes for not only the welfare of the child, but for the safety of the community and the protection of the rights of the victim(s). Moreover, many states have also amended their transfer qualifications so that only the most serious of crimes are tried in adult court. As a result, the competency requirement and the insanity defense have gained renewed importance.
The issue of juvenile competency began to form in the early 1990's from a dramatic increase in violent offenses by juveniles. A juvenile offender can be technically classified as "incompetent" for a number of reasons: developmental immaturity, mental illness, too young, or in the state of emotional shock. A criminal defendant MUST be capable of meaningful participation in his defense and must be able to make decisions, such as exercising or waiving important rights. Further, the criminal defendant must posses the ability to understand the charges, the trial process, other participants' rol...
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...ked at. For example, in Georgia, a twelve year old boy was charged with aggravated sodomy of two younger children. The defense attorney argued that the youth was diagnosed with mental retardation, and therefore could not give a consistent account of the event, and it impaired counsel from obtaining information critical to the boy's defense. The judge denied the motion explaining that Georgia did not have laws protecting incompetent juveniles from being tried in delinquency proceedings.
Not only do courts recognize incomplete development and incompetence, but most states' laws recognize lack of development. For example, the law does not believe that kids under the age of sixteen are capable of deciding about their medical treatments, entering binding contracts, or operating automobiles. How could the law then turn around and prosecute someone in this category?
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