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.

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Questions

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

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

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

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

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