While courts have agreed that the Dusky Standard is the appropriate legal standard for juvenile competency, they have relied upon diverging approaches to applying this legal standard to juveniles. For instance, in the Adult Norms standard, the juvenile is expected to demonstrate the same degree of capacity as an adult to be found competent to stand trial. Alternatively, in the Adolescent Norms standard, a juvenile’s competency is determined in relation to the normative capacities of the average adolescent. In such a non-uniform legal context, Dr. Ernst is aware of the critical need to clearly explain the basis of opinions so that they may be utilized regardless of the legal standard that is ultimately applied. In California, per P.C. 1367 (a) and W&I 709, a juvenile’s incompetence may be caused by a mental disorder, developmental disability, or development immaturity. Thus, given a wide body of research indicating that children’s thinking is developmentally distinct from adults, Dr. Ernst carefully evaluates components of developmental immaturity which may impact competency include impulsivity, abstract thinking, perception of risk, and perspective in decision-making. Dr. Ernst utilizes the Juvenile Adjudicative Competence Instrument to guide his collection of developmentally relevant data.
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