Evaluation of competency to stand trial in a juvenile population

Darla Michelle Rutherford Burnett

Abstract

The present study compared juveniles who were facing adjudication, with an age-matched control group that was recruited from the community. The scores that were obtained by the juvenile participants were compared to the mean scores that were reported for unscreened jailed adults in the MacCAT-CA normative study (Otto et al., 1998). In addition the relationships among estimated intelligence, SES, age, race, family history of criminal activity and competence to stand trial was assessed. Participants were 70 adolescent boys and 40 girls who were between the ages of 10 and 17 years. Competence to stand trial was assessed with the MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool-Criminal Adjudication (MacCAT-CA) which contains three scales, Understanding, Reasoning, and Appreciation. The scores that were earned by participants in the offender group were significantly lower than were those earned by comparison participants on the Reasoning scale, but not on the Understanding Scale (comparison participants did not complete the Appreciation scale). Scores on the Reasoning and Appreciation scales were found to be significantly related to age, with younger participants earning lower scores. When the mean scores that were obtained by the juvenile participants were compared to those of an adult sample, juveniles' scores were significantly lower on each of the three scales. When further divided by age group, participants who were ages 10-12, 13-15, and 15-16 years performed significantly lower than adults on the Understanding and Reasoning scales. Participants who were ages 10-12 and 13-14 years performed significantly lower than did adults on the Appreciation scale, whereas scores of participants who were ages 15-16 and 17 years were equivalent to those earned by adults. Significant differences were also found between African American and Caucasian participants' scores on the Understanding and Reasoning scales, but not on the Appreciation scale. Regression analyses identified several variables that significantly contributed to the prediction of competence scores. Estimated intelligence accounted for a significant amount of the variance in Understanding scores, and education level accounted for a significant amount of the variance in the Reasoning scores.