Excerpt from Appropriateness of juveniles being tried in adult courts

January 14, 2003

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CONAN: Joining us now by phone from his home outside Philadelphia is Laurence Steinberg. He's a psychology professor at Temple University, the co-author of a new MacArthur Foundation study on 1) ____________ development and juvenile justice.

It's good of you to speak with us.  

Professor LAURENCE STEINBERG (Temple University): Hi. How are you today?

CONAN: Very well, thanks. Professor Steinberg, in the US, we drive, we vote, we 2) ____________ at ages varying from 16 to 21. Is there a magic moment when someone is developmentally an 3) ____________ ?

Prof. STEINBERG: No, and that's part of the 4) ____________  and part of the crux of the issue that we're talking about today. People become 5) ____________  in different ways, at different ages, and the ages are kind of all over the place, 6) ____________  under criminal law.  

CONAN: What are the constitutional requirements for someone to stand trial in adult court?  

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, the Constitution 7) ____________  that individuals who are charged in criminal court be competent to stand 8) ____________ , and that means that they understand the charges against them, they understand the roles of the various 9) ____________  in court, they can assist counsel and they're capable of making important legal 10) ____________  about waiving their rights, including whether to take the stand or not, or whether to accept a plea agreement that's proffered by the prosecution.  

CONAN: And those kinds of judgments--are 17-year-old kids typically capable of making them, and 18-year-olds--you know, 16-year-olds not? I mean, you say there's no dividing line.  

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, our group just finished the first-ever national study of 11) ____________  to stand trial, in which we administered the same basic test of competence to about 1,500 individuals 12)  ____________  in age from 11 to 24. And what we found was that, under 16, there are high numbers of kids who would 13) ____________  a competence test--that is, kids who would be not competent to stand trial by the same standards that we use to exclude 14) ____________  ill individuals from court. We did find, however, that the proportions of 16- and 17-year-olds who were competent to stand trial, according to this measure, were 15) ____________  to the proportions of adults.

CONAN: That's interesting. Were you testing just normal kids?  

Prof. STEINBERG: Yes. We were testing 16) ____________  kids, half of whom were in the community and half of whom were in detention, but these were not children with mental retardation or with mental 17) ____________ .  

CONAN: It's interesting--this might be a little bit off the subject, but have you looked at this in terms of, you know, evolution? I mean, in hunter-gatherer 18) ____________ , where we evolved over the years, I mean, most kids when they're 13, 14, 15 are full-fledged adults.  

Prof. STEINBERG: Well, yes and no. I mean, in most societies, the 19) ____________  between childhood and adulthood is a gradual one. So even in those less industrialized societies, 13- and 14-year-olds probably didn't have the same range of responsibilities that adults did. They weren't treated as children, but they kind of had a learner's 20) ____________  for a lot of those activities.



1. At what age do people become adults, according to Prof. Steinberg?


2. What does "being competent to stand trial" mean?




3. How did the proportions of 16 and 17 year-olds who were competent to stand trial compare to adults in his study?


4. Are many young people under 16 competent to stand trial?