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date: 22 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The law has required that adult defendants cannot be tried unless they have an ability to understand and participate adequately in legal proceedings against them. Another legal protection for mentally ill defendants is insanity defense or criminal responsibility laws. Historically these legal protections were not applied to adolescents tried in juvenile court. The purpose of this article is to examine the application of competence and criminal responsibility laws to adolescents, with a focus on some of the challenges that have arisen. It discusses relevant legal standards and the role of mental illness and developmental immaturity and highlights the implications for courts, attorneys, and mental health clinicians. At the present time, many issues pertaining to potentially incompetent and not guilty by reason of insanity adolescents remain undecided. There is a need for further research on the characteristics and needs of these adolescents and appropriate assessment and treatment approaches.

Keywords: law, criminal responsibility, mentally ill defendants, insanity defense, legal standards

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