Article III. Adjudicatory and Dispositional Hearings


Rule 29: Procedure When Child Believed to Be Mentally Incompetent.

(a) At Time of Adjudicatory Hearing.

(1) If at any time prior to or during the adjudicatory hearing in a delinquent or unruly case, the court has reasonable grounds to believe the child named in the petition may be incompetent to proceed with an adjudicatory hearing, the court may stay the proceedings pending a determination of the child's mental condition.

(2) During the pendency of any such proceeding in which a child is believed to be suffering from mental illness or intellectual disability the court may order the child to be evaluated as provided in Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 37.

(3) If the child is found to be incompetent to proceed with the adjudicatory hearing, proceedings shall be commenced for the involuntary hospitalization of the child as provided by law, or the court may inform the parties as to procedures for voluntary admission to public and private mental health facilities in lieu of judicial commitment. If the child does not meet the standards for involuntary hospitalization, but remains incompetent to stand trial, the child shall be released to the appropriate guardian or custodian pending further hearings in juvenile court.

(4) If the child is not hospitalized, or upon the child's release from the hospital, any interested party or the court on its own motion may call the matter up for the purpose of setting an adjudicatory hearing.

(5) If the child is found to be competent to proceed with an adjudicatory hearing, the court shall proceed therewith.

(b) At Time of the Offense.

(1) If the child named in the petition intends to introduce expert testimony relating to a mental disease, defect, or other condition bearing upon the issue of whether the child shall, within the time provided for the filing of pretrial motions or at such later time as the court may direct, notify the court in writing of such intention and file a copy of such notice with the clerk. Upon filing of the notice, upon motion of the state, or on its own motion, the court may cause the child to be examined in accordance with the procedures set forth in this rule.

(2) The court, upon good cause shown and in its discretion, may waive the requirements herein set forth and permit the introduction of such defense, or may continue the hearing for the purpose of an examination in accordance with the procedures set forth in this rule. A continuance granted for this purpose will toll the times specified in Rule 17 regarding the time limits for adjudicatory hearings.

(c) Appointment of Expert Witnesses; Detention of Child for Examination.

(1) Where the child's sanity or competency is at issue and the court has set the matter for an adjudicatory hearing or a hearing to determine the mental condition of the child, the court may appoint as many as three (3) disinterested qualified experts to examine the child and testify at the hearing. If not performed by private practitioners, such examinations shall be performed at facilities designated by the Commissioner of Mental Health or the Commissioner of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Other competent evidence may be introduced at the hearing. The appointment of experts by the court shall not preclude the state or the child from calling other expert witnesses to testify at the adjudicatory hearing or at the hearing to determine the mental condition of the child.

(2) The court, in its discretion and pursuant to the procedures set forth in Rule 15, may order the child held in detention pending such examination and hearing. [As amended by order entered January 31, 1984, effective July 1, 1984; and by order filed January 13, 2012, effective July 1, 2012.]

Advisory Commission Comments [1984].

There are no reported cases in Tennessee addressing the question of whether or under what circumstances an insanity defense is available in juvenile court proceedings. Application of this defense in juvenile proceedings has been recognized in various jurisdictions. See, e.g. In re Two Minor Children, 592 P.2d 166 (Nev. 1979); State ex rel. Causey, 363 So. 2d 472 (La. 1978); Winburn v. State, 32 Wis. 2d 152, 145 N.W.2d 178 (1966); see also In re Ramon M., 22 Cal. 3d 419, 584 P.2d 524, 149 Cal. Rptr. 387 (1978); State v. Ferrell, 209 S.W.2d 642 (Tex. Civ. App. 1948). The leading case holding the insanity defense inapplicable to delinquency proceedings, In re H.C., 106 N.Y. Super. 583, 256 A.2d 125 (1969), was subsequently held to be overridden by modifications of the New Jersey Juvenile Court Act. In re R.G.W., 135 N.J. Super. 125, 342 A.2d 869 (1975), aff 'd, 70 N.J. 185, 358 A.2d 473 (1976). However, at least one jurisdiction continues to preclude the insanity defense from being asserted at the adjudicatory hearing (although recognizing the claim of incompetence to stand trial). See, In re C.W.M., 407 A.2d 617 (D.C. 1979).

 This rule is not intended to alter the substantive law respecting the applicability of the insanity defense to juvenile court proceedings in Tennessee or to delineate those circumstances under which such a defense may be available. Rather, it provides procedures for those cases in which “the child intends to introduce expert testimony relating to mental disease, defect or other condition bearing upon the issue of whether the child had the mental state required for the offense charged.”

Advisory Commission Comments [2012].

The 2012 amendments substitute the term “intellectual disability” for the term “mental retardation” and also substitute “Commissioner of Mental Health or Commissioner of  Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities” for “Commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation,” consistent with statutory changes enacted by the General Assembly.

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