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Juvenile Courts

Juvenile Court Evaluations


The juvenile justice system operates differently from the adult criminal justice system.  Juvenile justice systems in most states are typically more informal with different procedures compared to adult courts.

Cases heard in juvenile courts include delinquency (involving commission of a crime), dependency (abused/neglected minors), and status offenses that apply only to minors (truancy, curfew violations, running away, underage drinking).

Psychological evaluations may be requested by the court, defense, or prosecution or by agencies such as Department of Children and Families or Department of Juvenile Justice.

As with evaluations for adults, questions in juvenile delinquency cases may be raised regarding the impact of any preexisting mental condition on the juvenile’s competence to proceed with the court process.

Especially in juvenile cases, the court is interested in the assessment of any impacts of a juvenile’s age—that is, the level of cognitive maturity—on their capacity to understand abstract concepts involved in the legal process.

Those concepts may include the nature and seriousness of the offense, the range, and nature of possible penalties, the adversarial nature of the court process, and the ability to consult with counsel, among other factors.


Can Juveniles be Competent?

A frequent question asked regarding juveniles in the court system is, “How can juveniles be competent if they are considered minors under the law?”

The concept of a minor or dependent, status under the law can vary across jurisdictions. It revolves around the currently accepted, community definition of the threshold of adulthood when a person is considered capable of managing their own affairs.

However, human beings develop at different rates, and not everyone reaches cognitive maturity at the same legally defined age. Many adolescents younger than age 18 may be able to reason adequately about certain facts and processes, especially if they receive information or training about them.

Other people may not reach this adequate factual and rational understanding of events or processes until after age 18.

This question is at the heart of competency evaluations for juveniles.

Keep in mind that competency to proceed—or to understand the legal process—is not the same as the capacity to live independently or to care for oneself alone without help from others. Juveniles might be competent to proceed in court, but not yet able to live on their own and provide for themselves.

This is one of the many complex concepts involved with juvenile evaluations for the court.

In addition, mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities may impair a juvenile’s capacity to understand the legal process or to participate with counsel in their defense.  Understanding of Miranda rights may also be a question in juvenile cases.

As with the adult cases, the competence to proceed question may be raised by a judge, the defense or the prosecution when there is sufficient evidence presented.


Waiver to Adult Criminal Court

In most states, a juvenile accused of a serious crime potentially may be tried in adult criminal court.

These crimes may include aggravated assault or criminal homicide. In some cases, the prosecution may direct file the case in adult court.

Called prosecutorial discretion, these are cases in which the prosecutor has decided that adult court is the more appropriate venue to hear the case.

For other cases, a judicial waiver may apply. Typically a waiver hearing is held to determine whether the transfer, or waiver, of the juvenile’s case to adult court is appropriate. Often a psychological evaluation is performed in advance of the hearing to assist the court in its determination.

As with competency evaluations, the juvenile’s level of maturity, mental and intellectual conditions, rehabilitation potential, and the likelihood of future violence and offenses are evaluated.


Other Juvenile Evaluations

As in adult cases, presentence evaluation and mitigation evaluations may be performed with juveniles. Assessment of the youth’s capacity to understand or to waive Miranda rights also may be requested.

Florida agencies such as the Department of Children and Families or the Department of Juvenile Justice may request evaluations of children and adolescents regarding appropriate placements or other dispositions related to the welfare of the child.

Hope Counseling Center psychologists have broad experience in working with these agencies to provide evaluations in these cases.

For more information about juvenile evaluations, please contact Hope Counseling at our Lakeland location, (863) 709-8110 or email – today!