As of November 1, 2023, most juveniles will no longer have to register as a sex offender and be eligible to seal their convictions. Law enforcement will start removing eligible people from the registry soon and mailing letters confirming they have been removed. If you receive a letter indicating that you have been removed from the registry, please contact our office for a consultation to determine if you are eligible to seal your offense.

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Understanding incompetency: when young offenders can’t stand trial

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2024 | Juvenile offenses |

When a young person is accused of a crime, the legal system must determine whether they are competent or incompetent to stand trial. Incompetence refers to the individual’s inability to face trial and to assist in their defense.

Competency evaluations involve psychological assessments to determine an individual’s mental state and developmental maturity. This review is crucial for young offenders as their cognitive and emotional growth may impact their ability to participate fully in their defense.

Determining incompetence

In Washington, the court must order a competency evaluation if there are grounds to doubt a defendant’s competency. A qualified expert will then report to the state whether that person can stand trial, considering factors such as:

  • Age
  • Intellectual capacity or disabilities
  • Medical history and mental health issues
  • Substance use disorder

Experts also consider the individual’s criminal history; however, a sealed record can lead to a more unbiased assessment. Sealing records prevent past offenses from unduly influencing their evaluation of the young individual’s conditions.

If the court finds a young offender incompetent, it must decide on an appropriate course of action, often involving treatment or education to help the child reach competency. This process aims to protect young offenders’ legal rights so they can receive a fair trial.

A temporary or permanent condition

Incompetency can be a temporary or permanent condition. For instance, a court may deem a teen temporarily incompetent due to acute psychological distress but could become competent after receiving appropriate treatment.

Alternatively, severe intellectual disabilities or traumatic brain injuries may render a young offender permanently incompetent. In these cases, the legal system must balance public safety with the offender’s rights by finding alternative solutions.

Parents or guardians of an accused minor should consider seeking legal assistance. Through proper emotional support and legal advocacy, there is potential for positive outcomes even when facing serious legal challenges.

By addressing the underlying issues contributing to incompetency, the legal system provides a pathway for young offenders to ensure competency and, thus, a fair trial. The focus on treatment and education underscores the belief in the potential for minors to change and grow.