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Grisso Criteria

A framework of assessing the competence (ability) of children to effectively participate in the criminal trial process.

Thomas Grisso, an American psychologist, outlines a conceptual framework for competence in children based on legal and psychological definitions of competence. His framework consists of four states as to the abilities required to participate in the trial process:

I     Understanding of charges and potential consequences

  • Ability to understand and appreciate the charges and their seriousness
  • Ability to understand possible consequences of potential pleas
  • Ability to appraise realistically the likely outcome

II    Understanding the trial process

  • Ability to understand, without significant distortion, the roles of participants in the trial process (e.g. judge, defence lawyer, prosecutor, witness, jury)
  • Ability to understand the process and potential consequences of pleading
  • Ability to grasp the general sequence of pre-trial/trial events

III Capacity to participate with a lawyer in a defence

  • Ability to trust adequately or work collaboratively with a lawyer
  • Ability to disclose to the lawyer reasonably coherent description of the facts relating to the charges, as perceived by the defendant
  • Ability to reason about available option by weighing consequences, without significant distortion
  • Ability to challenge realistically prosecution witnesses and monitor trial events

IV  Potential for Court Room Participation

  • Ability to testify coherently, if testimony is needed
  • Ability to control own behaviour during trial proceedings
  • Ability to manage the stress of trial


Source: T Grisso, Forensic Evaluation of Juveniles, Professional Resource Press, Sarasota, USA, 1998.