Date of Award

8-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Todd M. Moore, Paula J. Fite

Committee Members

Bruce G. Seidner, Mae C. Quinn, Deborah L. Rhatigan

Abstract

As the courts have evolved over the past 30 years towards increasingly punitive sanctions for youthful offenders, the fundamental protections afforded to adult defendants have become increasingly relevant for youthful offenders. Among these protections, the right of juveniles to be competent to stand trial has gained nearly universal recognition throughout this country’s courts. Congruent with theory and previous research, we hypothesized that age, intellectual ability, psychiatric symptomatology, and maturity would all be directly related to adolescents’ competence. It was also anticipated that adolescents in the detention sample would evidence lower maturity and competency-related abilities compared to the community sample. Expanding on previous research that has consistently documented an association between age and competence, we hypothesized that psychosocial maturity would partially mediate this relationship. Further, we hypothesized that psychosocial maturity would moderate the direct relations between intellectual ability, psychiatric symptomatology, and competence. In order to test these hypotheses, we utilized a secondary sample from the MacArthur Adjudicative Competence Study that included 927 male and female adolescents ages 11- to 17-years-old recruited from 11 juvenile detention facilities and their surrounding communities. Results demonstrated that age, intellectual ability, and maturity were each directly positively related to competence, and psychiatric symptomatology was negatively related to competence. Further, results provided some support for the hypothesis that maturity partially explains the relationship between age and competence. While the relationship between psychiatric symptomatology and competence did not vary across high and low levels of maturity, results supported the hypothesis that the relationship between intellectual ability and competence varies across high and low levels of psychosocial maturity. Findings suggest that intellectual ability plays an essential role in juveniles’ adjudicative competence and can serve as a protective factor against some aspects of immaturity. Given these findings, it is suggested that youth with deficient intellectual abilities facing the possibility of transfer be automatically referred for evaluations of adjudicative competence. Further, findings suggest that maturity appears to warrant further attention from researchers and clinicians involved in evaluating juveniles’ adjudicative competence. Results are discussed in terms of the legal and clinical implications of developmental immaturity on the prosecution of youthful offenders.

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