Restatement of the Law, Children and the Law
The following entry is excerpted from the Black Letter and Comments of Tentative Draft No. 2, Part III–Children in the Justice System; Section 17.20 Adjudicative Competence in Criminal Proceedings.
The full draft contains additional Reporters’ Notes. This draft will be presented to membership at the 2019 Annual Meeting for approval. Until approved, this is not the position of The American Law Institute and should not be represented as such.
§17.20. Adjudicative Competence in Criminal Proceedings
(a) A juvenile charged with a criminal offense is not competent to participate in a proceeding to adjudicate guilt or to plead guilty unless the juvenile has both a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings, and is able to consult with and assist counsel in preparing a defense. The juvenile may lack the requisite competence due to mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental immaturity.
(b) (1) A juvenile found incompetent to proceed cannot be subject to a criminal proceeding or enter a plea unless and until his or her incompetence is remediated and competence is attained. Remediation must occur in a reasonable period of time following the finding of incompetence.
(2) Unless otherwise prohibited by law, a juvenile found incompetent to proceed can be transferred to juvenile court to be adjudicated if he or she is competent to proceed in a delinquency proceeding.
a. History and rationale. Common-law courts for centuries have determined that an individual charged with a criminal offense cannot be tried if he or she is incapable of meaningfully participating in the proceeding to determine guilt. Historically, the requirement that a defendant must have a minimal level of competence was grounded in the formal procedural mandate that a plea by the defendant was necessary before a criminal prosecution could proceed. If the defendant was unable to understand and enter a plea because of diminished mental capacity, the adjudication could not proceed. Even after courts entered a not-guilty plea for defendants who did not plead, the requirement that the defendant be competent to proceed persisted as a condition of criminal prosecution.
The requirement of adjudicative competence aims to preserve the values of accuracy, legitimacy, and autonomy in criminal proceedings. See § 15.30, Adjudicative competence in delinquency proceedings, Comment a. First, the requirement promotes accuracy because a competent defendant can challenge prosecution evidence and provide exculpatory information to defense counsel, while an incompetent defendant may be unable to fulfill those functions. Second, the competence requirement promotes legitimacy, which is undermined when an uncomprehending defendant faces the power of the state in a criminal proceeding, the goal of which is punishment and deprivation of liberty. Finally, respect for individual autonomy requires the defendant’s meaningful participation in criminal proceedings. In Drope. v Missouri, the United States Supreme Court held that constitutional due process requires that a criminal defendant be competent to stand trial. 420 U.S. 162 (1975). The Court observed, “It has long been accepted that a person whose mental condition is such that he lacks the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel and to assist in preparing a defense, may not be subjected to a trial.” Id. at 171.
The criminal defendant has a right not to be subject to prosecution while incompetent; but, because the requirement of competence also has the purpose of promoting the integrity and legitimacy of the proceeding, the defendant cannot waive this right. Further, the prosecutor can raise the issue and the judge sua sponte can order a competence hearing. The evidence considered in the hearing includes a report on a psychological evaluation of the defendant’s competence by an expert forensic clinician.
The legal standard that is universally applied by courts in determining adjudicative competence in criminal proceedings was provided by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dusky v. United States. 362 U.S. 402 (1960). Under Dusky, the test for adjudicative competence is “whether [the defendant] has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding—and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.” Id. at 402. See also Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375 (1966) (defendant was deprived of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by court’s failure to order competence hearing). Courts apply this standard for adjudicative competence to a juvenile tried as an adult in criminal court.
The determination that an adult criminal defendant is incompetent to proceed has usually been limited to cases involving serious mental illness or intellectual disability that renders the individual unable to participate in his or her defense. Only recently have courts addressed claims that a juvenile prosecuted as an adult is incompetent on the basis of immaturity. This issue is addressed in Comment c and the Reporter’s Note thereto.