Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 333–363

Juveniles' Competence to Stand Trial: A Comparison of Adolescents' and Adults' Capacities as Trial Defendants


  • Thomas Grisso
    • Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School
  • Laurence Steinberg
    • Department of PsychologyTemple University
  • Jennifer Woolard
    • Department of PsychologyGeorgetown University
  • Elizabeth Cauffman
    • Western Psychiatric Institute and ClinicUniversity of Pittsburgh
  • Elizabeth Scott
    • School of LawUniversity of Virginia
  • Sandra Graham
    • Graduate School of Education and Information StudiesUniversity of California – Los Angeles
  • Fran Lexcen
    • Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School
  • N. Dickon Reppucci
    • Department of PsychologyUniversity of Virginia
  • Robert Schwartz
    • Juvenile Law Center

DOI: 10.1023/A:1024065015717

Cite this article as:
Grisso, T., Steinberg, L., Woolard, J. et al. Law Hum Behav (2003) 27: 333. doi:10.1023/A:1024065015717


Abilities associated with adjudicative competence were assessed among 927 adolescents in juvenile detention facilities and community settings. Adolescents' abilities were compared to those of 466 young adults in jails and in the community. Participants at 4 locations across the United States completed a standardized measure of abilities relevant for competence to stand trial (the MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool—Criminal Adjudication) as well as a new procedure for assessing psychosocial influences on legal decisions often required of defendants (MacArthur Judgment Evaluation). Youths aged 15 and younger performed more poorly than young adults, with a greater proportion manifesting a level of impairment consistent with that of persons found incompetent to stand trial. Adolescents also tended more often than young adults to make choices (e.g., about plea agreements) that reflected compliance with authority, as well as influences of psychosocial immaturity. Implications of these results for policy and practice are discussed, with an emphasis on the development of legal standards that recognize immaturity as a potential predicate of incompetence to stand trial.

adolescencelegal competencedelinquencyjuvenile justice

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© American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychology Association 2003