Many youth coming before the juvenile court in delinquency cases have cognitive limitations stemming from mental illness, developmental disabilities, or immaturity. In some cases these limitations render them incompetent to stand trial — they do not understand the nature of the proceedings or are unable to assist in their defense. Juvenile justice systems are often perplexed about how to handle the needs of potentially incompetent youth, and all too often children suffer protracted incarceration while the system figures out what to do with them.


Recent Action

  • Convening a statewide series of meetings to bring California probation officials together with Regional Center officials charged with providing treatment for eligible youth with developmental disabilities or other qualifying conditions.
  • Conducting a statewide survey of probation staff about the incidence of potential incompetence, how county systems are dealing with these youth, and what more they need from a policy perspective. The results of this work were published in a seminal law review article, “Incompetent Youth In California Juvenile Justice,” 19 Stanford Law & Policy Review 198-250 (2008).
  • Working with other stakeholders to enact juvenile competence legislation in California (Welfare and Institutions Code section 709).
  • Drafting a protocol for handling juvenile competence in California Courts that provides an approach to handling issues not covered by current law.
  • Providing input for a court rule on qualifications of juvenile competence experts. YLC also consulted with national experts drafting a guide for legislators on developing juvenile competence statutes.
  • Training and consulting with juvenile court professionals on juvenile competence issues.