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Prosecuting Teens as Adults

3/26/2003:   Many Teens Tried as Adults Have Little Understanding of Legal Process

The MacArthur Foundation recently released a study revealing that many children under 16 have as much difficulty grasping complex legal proceedings as adults who have been ruled incompetent to go to court. Although experts on each side of the issue disagree as to whether these youth understand the implications of their actions, the research indicates they do not understand the complexities of the legal system enough to provide the best information to their lawyers.

The John and Catherine MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice looked at more than 1,400 young people, ages 11–24, in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Subjects were given intelligence tests and asked to respond to several hypothetical legal situations, such as whether to confess to a police officer. One-third of those 11–13 and one-fifth of those 14–15 could not understand the proceedings or help lawyers defend them. The study’s authors recommend that states reconsider the minimum age for juveniles to be tried as adults or strengthen the method used to for evaluating young defendants' competence. For more information on the study, visit this website.

CWLA and the MacArthur Foundation have also joined forces on an initiative exploring the link between child welfare and juvenile justice. For more information, visit the
CWLA Juvenile Justice Division page

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