The Competence of Adolescents as Trial Defendants

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry

Publication Date


Document Type



Juvenile Delinquency; Crime; Mental Disorders; Adolescent; Adolescent Behavior; Mental Competency




The significance of adolescents' capacities as defendants has increased as a consequence of new laws that promote the transfer of juveniles for trial in criminal court. Basic and applied developmental research is reviewed to examine evidence for adolescents' capacities to participate as defendants in their criminal court trials (defined in law as competence to stand trial). Research is reviewed in 4 areas: (a) adolescents' understanding of the legal process; (b) their appreciation of the significance of legal circumstances for their defense; (c) their ability to communicate information to counsel; and (d) their reasoning and judgment in making decisions as defendants. The results suggest a greater risk of impairments in trial competence abilities for adolescents than for adults. Possible ways to respond to adolescents who are less prepared to participate in trials are offered. Tentative recommendations are made for policy and law that would increase protections against trying adolescents in criminal court when their trial competence is impaired.


Thomas Grisso, The Competence of Adolescents as Trial Defendants, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Volume 3, Issue 1, March 1997, Pages 3-32. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WYN-46P4P04-M/2/9fdc098d26b6eb0500e1999381375034)

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law