Date of Conferral







Jessica Hart


Research into the neurological and cognitive factors influencing juveniles’ adjudicative competence psycholegal abilities is needed to ensure their due process rights and help inform qualified forensic mental health examiners offering their opinions on adjudicative competence in courts. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of prenatal substance exposure on neurological factors related to juveniles’ abilities to understand the charges against them and participate in legal proceedings. Jean Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory was the theoretical framework for this study. Concrete operational and formal operational stages of cognitive development were addressed to help frame juveniles’ factual and rational understanding and ability to assist in their defense identified in the Dusky v. United States adjudicative competence legal standard. This qualitative research design involved an archival multiple case analysis to explore adjudicative competence evaluations in a Michigan circuit court. The Juvenile Adjudicative Competency Interview was used to assess juveniles’ psycholegal abilities. Findings of this study suggest that lower intellectual functioning, limited rational understanding, limited reasoning and decision-making abilities, and limited ability to assist in defense has a substantial relationship with competence judgments to proceed with adjudication. This study promotes positive social change by providing insight into the neurological and cognitive factors that affect adolescents’ psycholegal abilities when there is prenatal substance exposure. Juveniles with prenatal substance exposure are a vulnerable population that needs protective measures to ensure their constitutional rights.

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