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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Juvenile courts unsure how to deal with dangerous teens incompetent for trial

The 17-year-old with a slash of a scar between his eyebrows frustrates Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge Thomas F. O'Malley. The teen leveled a silver handgun, robbing a woman gardening in her yard and drivers delivering milk and chips, police say. Others, like the man pumping gas, he threatened with a pipe. But in the detention center, without a weapon or adults urging him on, he was prey. The other kids were taking his food.

His lawyer says the teen doesn't grasp what was going on - why he was charged or why he can't go home. He keeps asking the same questions.

"Sometimes you are talking to these kids and you just see the blank look," lawyer Brian Sharkin said.

The court has deemed the teen with an IQ of 52 incompetent to stand trial. The reports told the judge something else. If released, the teen would likely hurt himself or someone else within 24 hours.

"What do I do with him?" O'Malley asked.

The question is echoed in juvenile courts across the state.

In Ohio's juvenile courts - unlike the adult system - no written rules dictate how to determine if a juvenile is competent to be tried in court.

Courts have to fashion their own. [Mark Godsey]

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