After testing more than 70 adolescents in the Grand Forks, N.D., juvenile court system, University of North Dakota researchers have concluded that courts nationwide should take steps to ensure that juveniles being tried as adults are mentally fit, reports the Fargo Forum. The study's findings suggest that court officials should consider the results of competency and psychological tests in determining if juveniles, whose brains are still developing, understand the consequences of certain legal decisions, such as choosing between a trial or a plea deal, said Mariah Laver, one of the researchers.
Roughly 200,000 juvenile cases go through adult criminal courts in the U.S. each year, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice. Laver said none of the study participants, whose offenses ranged from skipping school to assault, was tried as an adult but that the group represents a population similar to those who are. She said the study found “better reasoning and better understanding of court proceedings was associated with higher intelligence levels.” The study builds off earlier research by others, including one by the Sentencing Project that concluded, “Recent studies on child development and competency question the extent to which young children are able to assist counsel or understand the trial process.”