In re Gault

In the landmark juvenile law decision In re Gault (1967), the Supreme Court established that children are persons within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment, and as such, they are entitled to its procedural protections. The decision set forth the legal principle that although minors are not entitled to every constitutional protection afforded to adults, they are not entirely without constitutional protection. Perhaps the most famous statement to emerge from this Supreme Court decision was that made by Justice Abe Fortas: "Neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone."

Gerald Gault, a fifteen-year-old boy, was charged with making a lewd telephone call to one of his female neighbors. Following a hearing on the charge, the juvenile court judge determined that Gault's actions were a disruption of the peace and that he had exhibited a pattern of engaging in immoral behaviors. The judge committed Gault to the Arizona State Industrial School (a juvenile detention center) until the age of twenty-one. During this hearing, Gault was not offered the same procedural protections to which he would have been entitled had he been tried in an adult criminal court. His treatment, however, was consistent with the goals of JUVENILE JUSTICE during the first half of the twentieth century. During this era, juvenile justice was seen as reform rather than as criminal punishment; consequently, it was widely believed that the courts' reformative powers would be hampered if they were expected to apply the same constitutional rights to children as to adults. This approach, however, was not without controversy, and the Supreme Court voiced its disapproval in the Gault case.

The Court's decision in Gault established the principle that JUVENILE COURTS must observe standard procedures and provide specific protections guaranteed by the Constitution. The Court set forth several procedural requirements for juvenile DELINQUENCY proceedings. First, the juvenile and his or her parents must be given written notice of the particular charges brought against him or her, and this notice must be delivered within such time as to permit the juvenile to have a reasonable opportunity to prepare for the hearing. Second, the juvenile and his or her parents must be notified of the juvenile's right to be represented by an attorney, and they must be informed that the court will appoint an attorney if they are unable to afford one. The Court also held that juveniles, like adults, are entitled to the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination, and, finally, that juveniles have the right to hear the sworn testimony against them and to confront that testimony through the cross-examination of witnesses.

The Court did not render an opinion regarding the key questions of whether a state must grant a juvenile a right to appeal a finding of delinquency or whether the state must provide an account (either a transcript or audio recording) of the court hearing. However, the Court's affirmative declarations were of far greater importance than these omissions. Because the Court acknowledged limits on the state's power to justify the regulation of juveniles through reliance on the doctrine of parens patriae, In re Gault was a watershed decision for juvenile rights. It is commonly cited as the most important CHILDREN'S RIGHTS case.

See also: Law, Children and the.


Krisberg, Barry, and James F. Austin. 1993. Reinventing Juvenile Justice. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Mnookin, Robert H. 1985. In the Interest of Children: Advocacy, Law Reform, and Public Policy. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Ramsey, Sarah H., and Douglas E. Abrams. 2001. Children and the Law in a Nutshell. St. Paul, MN: West Group.

Simonsen, Clifford E., and Marshall S. Gordon III. 1982. Juvenile Justice in America. New York: Macmillan.

Vito, Gennaro F., and Deborah G. Wilson. 1985. The American Juvenile Justice System. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.