Law and Human Behavior

, 29:723 | Cite as

Competence to Waive Interrogation Rights and Adjudicative Competence in Adolescent Defendants: Cognitive Development, Attorney Contact, and Psychological Symptoms

  • Jodi L. ViljoenEmail author
  • Ronald Roesch


Although there is growing evidence of developmental differences in competency to waive interrogation rights and adjudicative competence, the correlates of adolescents' legal capacities remain unclear. This study examined the relationship of legal capacities to cognitive development, legal learning opportunities, and psychological symptoms. Participants were 152 male and female defendants aged 11–17, who completed Grisso's Instruments for Assessing Understanding and Appreciation of Miranda Rights, the Fitness Interview Test (Revised Edition), the Woodcock-Johnson III Cognitive Assessment Battery, and the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale for Children. Legal capacities relevant to interrogation and adjudication increased with age. These developmental differences were partially mediated or explained by cognitive development. Of the specific cognitive ilities examined (general intellectual ability, verbal ability, reasoning, long-term retrieval, attention, and executive functioning), verbal ability was a particularly strong predictor of performance on competency measures. Also, defendants obtained lower scores on competency measures if they showed evidence of attention deficits or hyperactivity, had spent limited time with their attorneys, and/or were from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Key Words

juvenile justice adolescence competence Miranda rights interrogation adjudication 


  1. Abramovitch, R., Peterson-Badali, M.,& Rohan, M. (1995). Young people's understanding and assertion of their rights to silence and legal counsel. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 37, 1–18.Google Scholar
  2. American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center. (1995). A call for justice: An assessment of access to counsel and quality of representation in delinquency proceedings. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  3. American Psychological Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  4. Appelbaum, P. S.,& Grisso, T. (2001). MacArthur competency assessment tool for clinical research (MacCAT-CR). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baron, R. M.,& Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bonnie, R. J. (1992). The competence of criminal defendants: A theoretical reformulation. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 10, 291–316.Google Scholar
  7. Bonnie, R. J.,& Grisso, T. (2000). Adjudicative competence and youthful offenders. In T. Grisso& R. G. Schwartz (Eds.), Youth on trial: A developmental perspective on juvenile justice (pp.73–103). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  8. Burnett, D. M. R., Noblin, C. D.,& Prosser, V. (2004). Adjudicative competency in a juvenile population. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 31, 438–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buss, E. (2000). The role of lawyers in promoting juveniles' competence as defendants. In T. Grisso& R. G. Schwartz (Eds.), Youth on trial: A developmental perspective on juvenile justice (pp. 73–103). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Carroll, J. B. (1993). Human cognitive abilities: A survey of factor analytic studies. New York: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  11. Cizek, G. J. (2003). Test review of the Woodcock-Johnson III. In B. S. Plake, J. C. Impara,& R. A. Spies (Eds.), The fifteenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S. G.,& Aiken, L. S. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Conger, A. J. (1974). A revised definition for suppressor variables: A guide to their identification and interpretation. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 34, 35–46.Google Scholar
  15. Davies, P. L.,& Rose, J. D. (1999). Assessment of cognitive development in adolescents by means of neuropsychological tasks. Developmental Neuropsychology, 15, 227–248.Google Scholar
  16. Davis, S. M., Scott, E. S., Wadlington, W.,& Whitebread, C. H. (2004). Children in the legal system (3rd ed.). New York: Foundation Press.Google Scholar
  17. Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707. (1979).Google Scholar
  18. Feld, B. C. (2000). Juveniles' waiver of legal rights: Confessions, Miranda, and the right to counsel. In T. Grisso& R. G. Schwartz (Eds.), Youth on trial: A developmental perspective on juvenile justice (pp.105–138). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Flavell, J. H., Miller, P. H.,& Miller, S. A. (1993). Cognitive development (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  20. Fulero, S. M.,& Everington, C. (1995). Assessing competency to waive Miranda rights in defendants with mental retardation. Law and Human Behavior, 19, 533–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Giedd, J. N., Blumenthal, J., Jeffries, N. O., Castellanos, F. X., Liu, H., Zijdenbos, A., Paus, T., Evans, A. C.,& Rapoport, J. L. (1999). Brain development during childhood and adolescence: A longitudinal MRI study. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 861–863.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goldstein, N. E. S., Condie, L. O., Kalbeitzer, R., Osman, D.,& Geier, J. L. (2003). Juvenile offender's Miranda rights comprehension and self-reported likelihood of offering false confessions. Assessment, 10, 359–369.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grisso, T. (1980). Juveniles' capacities to waive Miranda rights: An empirical analysis. California Law Review, 68, 1134–1166.Google Scholar
  24. Grisso, T. (1997). The competence of adolescents as trial defendants. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 3, 3–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grisso, T. (1998). Instruments for assessing understanding and appreciation of Miranda rights. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press/Professional Resource Exchange.Google Scholar
  26. Grisso, T. (2003). Evaluating competencies: Forensic assessments and instruments (2nd ed.). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  27. Grisso, T.,& Appelbaum, P. S. (1995). The MacArthur Treatment Competence Study: III. Abilities of patients to consent to psychiatric and medical treatments. Law and Human Behavior, 19, 149–174.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Grisso, T., Steinberg, L., Woolard, J., Cauffman, E., Scott, E., Graham, S., Lexcen, F., Reppucci, N. D.,& Schwartz, R. (2003). Juveniles' competence to stand trial: A comparison of adolescents' and adults' capacities as trial defendants. Law and Human Behavior, 27, 333–363.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hoge, S. K., Poythress, N., Bonnie, R. J., Monahan, J., Eisenberg, M.,& Feucht-Haviar, T. (1997). The MacArthur adjudicative competence study: Diagnosis, psychopathology, and competence-related abilities. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 15, 329–345.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hollingshead, A. (1975). Four factor index of social status. New Haven, CT: Department of Sociology, Yale University.Google Scholar
  31. Holmbeck, G. N. (1997). Toward terminological, conceptual, and statistical clarity in the study of mediators and moderators: Examples from the child-clinical and pediatric psychology literatures. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 599–610.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hughes, C. W., Rintelmann, J., Emslie, G. J., Lopez, M.,& MacCabe, N. (2001). A revised anchored version of the BPRS-C for childhood psychiatric disorders. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 11, 77–93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. In re Gault, 387 U. S. 1. (1967).Google Scholar
  34. Judd, C. M.,& Kenny, D. A. (1981). Process analysis: Estimating mediation in treatment evaluations. Evaluation Review, 5, 602–619.Google Scholar
  35. Kenny, D. A., Kashy, D. A.,& Bolger, N. (1998). Data analysis in social psychology. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske,& G. Lindsey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 233–265). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Kirkish, P.,& Sreenivasan, S. (1999). Neuropsychological assessment of competency to stand trial evaluations: A practical conceptual model. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 27, 101–113.Google Scholar
  37. Klaczynski, P. A. (2001). Analytic and heuristic processing influences on adolescent reasoning and decision-making. Child Development, 72, 844–861.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lachar, D., Randle, S. L., Harper, R. A., Scott-Gurnell, K. C., Lewis, K. R., Santos, C. W., et al. (2001). The brief psychiatric rating scale for children (BPRS-C): Validity and reliability of an anchored version. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 333–340.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Levin, H. S., Culhane, K. A., Hartmann, J., Evankovich, K., Mattson, A. J., Harward, H., Ringholz, G., Ewing-Cobbs, L.,& Fletcher, J. M. (1991). Developmental changes in performance on tests of purported frontal lobe functioning. Developmental Neuropsychology, 7, 377–395.Google Scholar
  40. Martell, D. A. (1992). Forensic neuropsychology and the criminal law . Law and Human Behavior, 16, 313–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McGraw, K. O.,& Wong, S. P. (1996). Forming inferences about some intraclass correlation coefficients. Psychological Methods, 1, 30–46.Google Scholar
  42. McGrew, K. S.,& Woodcock, R. W. (2001). Technical manual. Woodcock-Johnson III. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
  43. McKay, K. E., Halperin, J. M., Schwartz, S. T.,& Sharma, V. (1994). Developmental analysis of three aspects of information processing: Sustained attention, selective attention, and response organization. Developmental Neuropsychology, 10, 121–132.Google Scholar
  44. Melton, G. B. (1980). Children's concepts of their rights . Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 9, 186–190.Google Scholar
  45. Nestor, P. G., Daggett, D., Haycock, J.,& Price, M. (1999). Competence to stand trial: A neuropsychological inquiry. Law and Human Behavior, 23, 397–412.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peterson-Badali, M.,& Abramovitch, R. (1992). Children's knowledge of the legal system: Are they competent to instruct legal counsel? Canadian Journal of Criminology, 34, 139–160.Google Scholar
  47. Poythress, N. G., Bonnie, R. J., Hoge, S. K., Monahan, J.,& Oberlander, L. (1994). Client abilities to assist counsel and make decisions in criminal cases: Findings from three studies. Law and Human Behavior, 18, 437–452.Google Scholar
  48. Redlich, A. D., Silverman, M.,& Steiner, H. (2003). Pre-adjudicative and adjudicative competence in juveniles and young adults. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 21, 393–410.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Redding, R.,& Frost, L. (2001). Adjudicative competence in the modern juvenile court. Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, 9, 353–410.Google Scholar
  50. Roesch, R., Zapf, P. A., Eaves, D.,& Webster, C. D. (1998). Fitness Interview Test (rev. ed.). Burnaby, BC: Mental Health, Law and Policy Institute, Simon Fraser University.Google Scholar
  51. Ryan, C. M. (1990). Age-related improvement in short-term memory efficiency during adolescence. Developmental Neuropsychology, 6, 193–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sandoval, J. (2003). The Woodcock Johnson III. In B. S. Plake, J. C. Impara,& R. A. Spies (Eds.), The fifteenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln, NB: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements, University of Lincoln Press.Google Scholar
  53. Savistsky, J. C.,& Karras, D. (1984). Competency to stand trial among adolescents. Adolescence, 19, 349–358.Google Scholar
  54. Scott, E. S.,& Grisso, T. (1997). The evolution of adolescence: A developmental perspective on juvenile justice reform. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88, 137–189.Google Scholar
  55. Sowell, E. R., Thompson, P. M., Holmes, C. J., Jernigan, T. L.,& Toga, A. W. (1999). In vivo evidence for post-adolescent brain maturation in frontal and striatal regions. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 859–861.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Spreen, O.,& Strauss, E. (1998). A compendium of neuropsychological tests: Administration, norms, and commentary (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Sternberg, R. J.,& Kaufman, J. C. (1998). Human abilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 479–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Teplin, L. A., Abram, K. M., McClelland, G. M., Dulcan, M. K.,& Mericle, A. A. (2002). Psychiatric disorders in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 1133–1143.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Viljoen, J. L., Klaver, J.,& Roesch, R. (2005). Legal decisions made by preadolescent and adolescent defendants: Predictors of confessions, pleas, appeals, and communication with attorneys. Law and Human Behavior, 29, 253–277.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Viljoen, J. L., Roesch, R.,& Zapf, P. A. (2002). An examination of the relationship between competency to stand trial, competency to waive interrogation rights, and psychopathology. Law and Human Behavior, 26, 481–506.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Viljoen, J. L., Vincent, G. M.,& Roesch, R. (in press). Assessing child and adolescent defendants' adjudicative competency: Interrater reliability and factor structure of the Fitness Interview Test. Criminal Justice and Behavior.Google Scholar
  62. Viljoen, J. L., Zapf, P. A.,& Roesch, R. (2003). Diagnosis, current psychiatric symptoms, and legal abilities. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 3, 23–37.Google Scholar
  63. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Wasserman, G. A., McReynolds, L. S., Lucas, C. P., Fisher, P.,& Santos, L. (2002). The voice DISC-IV with incarcerated male youths: Prevalence of disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 314–321.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Woodcock, R., McGrew, K.,& Mather, N. (2001). The Woodcock-Johnson III Cognitive Assessment Battery. Itasca, IL: Riverside.Google Scholar
  66. Zapf, P. A.,& Roesch, R. (2001). A comparison of the MacCAT-CA and the FIT for making determinations of competency to stand trial. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 24, 81–92.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Zapf, P. A., Roesch, R.,& Viljoen, J. L. (2001). The utility of the Fitness Interview Test for assessing fitness to stand trial. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 46, 426–432.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnNebraska
  2. 2.Mental Health Law and Policy InstituteSimon Fraser University, University DriveBurnabyCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnNebraska

Personalised recommendations