Juvenile's Right to a Competency Determination

Competency, if properly raised, must be determined by the court: In James H v. Superior Court of Riverside Co, 77 Cal. App. 3d 169, 174; 143 Cal. Rptr. 398 (1978), the California Court of Appeals held that juveniles had a due process right to be afforded a hearing when a question arose with respect to competency. The court reasoned that an incompetent juvenile would be unable to cooperate with counsel, thus denying the juvenile the effective assistance of counsel. Id. The court also held that the trial court had the inherent power to conduct a competency hearing; thus, it reasoned, the lack of statutory procedures did not preclude holding a hearing. Id. at 175. The Supreme Court of Louisiana concluded that the right of an incompetent juvenile not to be subjected to juvenile proceedings was "fundamental" and "essential," and analogized this right to the right not to be tried in absentia. In re Causey, 363 So. 2d 472, 476 (La, 1978). In In re Two Minor Children, 95 Nev. 225, 230-231; 592 P.2d 166 (1979), the Nevada Supreme Court similarly found a due process right to a competency hearing. Its holding was based on Justice Black's concurring opinion in Gault, supra at 61, as well as James H, supra. the Minnesota Supreme Court held, as the Louisiana Supreme Court had earlier, that the right of an incompetent juvenile not to be subjected to juvenile proceedings was fundamental. In re Welfare of SWT, 277 N.W.2d 507, 511 (Minn, 1979). In State ex rel Dandoy v. Superior Ct, 127 Ariz. 184, 187; 619 P.2d 12 (1980), the Arizona Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion, relying again on the right to effective counsel as the basis for concluding that a juvenile must be able to confer with counsel. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals found that the juvenile system under review did not adequately protect the right of an incompetent juvenile not to be tried. In re WAF, 573 A.2d 1264, 1266 (DC App, 1990). The Georgia Court of Appeals found that "a want of competence renders the rights recognized in Gault and its progeny meaningless." In re SH, 220 Ga. App. 569, 571; 469 S.E.2d 810 (1996). The Washington Court of Appeals, in addressing the procedure to be followed for competency proceedings involving juveniles, recognized without discussion the right of juveniles to a competency determination. State v. EC, 83 Wn. App. 523, 527-528; 922 P.2d 152 (1996). The Ohio Court of Appeals found that the right not to be tried while incompetent is "as fundamental in juvenile proceedings as it is in criminal trials of adults." In re Williams, 116 Ohio App. 3d 237, 241; 687 N.E.2d 507 (1997). It appears that all courts that have spoken on this issue have recognized the right of juveniles to a competency determination.