Following trends in a handful of other states, an appellate court in California has held that developmental immaturity can be a grounds for a finding of incompetency to stand trial.
California law lists only mental illness and developmental disability as grounds for incompetency. But the new ruling acknowledges that some children can be too immature to understand their legal proceedings or assist in their own defense.
With more juveniles being prosecuted as adults, more attention is being paid to the issue of juvenile competency to stand trial. A new instrument for evaluating juveniles’ competency, written by leading forensic psychologist Tom Grisso, stresses the need to consider developmental maturity.
The Dante H. case, decided May 10 by California's 3rd District Court of Appeal, involved an 11-year-old Sacramento boy accused of breaking into an elementary school and stealing candy bars. He was charged with second-degree burglary.
Two psychologists had evaluated the boy, and both concluded he was not fit to stand trial.
Dr. Adam Alban has kindly made the court decision (2007 Cal. App. LEXIS 704) available online.
More information on adolescent development issues in juvenile justice is available from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice.