In re Gault

Gerard Gault was 15 years old when he was sentenced to a maximum of six years in a juvenile correctional facility for making an obscene phone call to a neighbor while on probation for another offense. If Gault had been an adult, the maximum penalty for his crime would have been a fine of $50 or two months in jail. Worse than the disparity in sentencing was the fact that Arizona (like many other states at the time) gave juvenile defendants almost no rights. For example, juvenile defendants had no right to confront witnesses and no protection against self-incrimination.

The Supreme Court overturned Gaults conviction and held that the constitutional guarantee of due process applies to juvenile defendants. These constitutional protections include the right to timely notice of criminal charges, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, the right to not testify against oneself, and the right to counsel.


 In re Gault


387 U.S. 1 (1967)



Appellants' 15-year-old son, Gerald Gault, was taken into custody as the result of a complaint that he had made lewd telephone calls. After hearings before a juvenile court judge, Gerald was ordered committed to the State Industrial School as a juvenile delinquent until he should reach majority. Appellants brought a habeas corpus action in the state courts to challenge the constitutionality of the Arizona Juvenile Code and the procedure actually used in Gerald's case, on the ground of denial of various procedural due process rights. The State Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the writ. Agreeing that the constitutional guarantee of due process applies to proceedings in which juveniles are charged as delinquents, the court held that the Arizona Juvenile Code impliedly includes the requirements of due process in delinquency proceedings, and that such due process requirements were not offended by the procedure leading to Gerald's commitment.


1. Kent v. United States, , 383 U. S. 562 (1966), held "that the [waiver] hearing must measure up to the essentials of due process and fair treatment." This view is reiterated, here in connection with a juvenile court adjudication of "delinquency," as a requirement which is part of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution. The holding in this case relates only to the adjudicatory stage of the juvenile process, where commitment to a state institution may follow. When proceedings may result in incarceration in an institution of confinement, "it would be extraordinary if our Constitution did not require the procedural regularity and exercise of care implied in the phrase due process.'" Pp. 387 U. S. 12-31.

2. Due process requires, in such proceedings, that adequate written notice be afforded the child and his parents or guardian. Such notice must inform them "of the specific issues that they must meet," and must be given "at the earliest practicable time, and, in any event, sufficiently in advance of the hearing to permit preparation." Notice here was neither timely nor adequately specific, nor was there waiver of the right to constitutionally adequate notice. Pp. 387 U. S. 31-34.

3. In such proceedings, the child and his parents must be advised of their right to be represented by counsel and, if they are unable to afford counsel, that counsel will be appointed to represent the child. Mrs. Gault's statement at the habeas corpus hearing that she had known she could employ counsel, is not "an intentional relinquishment or abandonment' of a fully known right." Pp. 387 U. S. 34-42.

4. The constitutional privilege against self-incrimination is applicable in such proceedings:

"an admission by the juvenile may [not] be used against him in the absence of clear and unequivocal evidence that the admission was made with knowledge that he was not obliged to speak, and would not be penalized for remaining silent."

"[T]he availability of the privilege does not turn upon the type of proceeding in which its protection is invoked, but upon the nature of the statement or admission and the exposure which it invites. . . . [J]uvenile proceedings to determine 'delinquency,' which may lead to commitment to a state institution, must be regarded as 'criminal' for purposes of the privilege against self-incrimination."

Furthermore, experience has shown that "admissions and confessions by juveniles require special caution" as to their reliability and voluntariness, and "[i]t would indeed be surprising if the privilege against self-incrimination were available to hardened criminals, but not to children."

"[S]pecial problems may arise with respect to waiver of the privilege by or on behalf of children, and . . . there may well be some differences in technique -- but not in principle -- depending upon the age of the child and the presence and competence of parents. . . . If counsel was not present for some permissible reason when an admission was obtained, the greatest care must be taken to assure that the admission was voluntary. . . ."

Gerald's admissions did not measure up to these standards, and could not properly be used as a basis for the judgment against him. Pp. 387 U. S. 44-56.

5. Absent a valid confession, a juvenile in such proceedings must be afforded the rights of confrontation and sworn testimony of witnesses available for cross-examination. Pp. 387 U. S. 56-57.

6. Other questions raised by appellants, including the absence of provision for appellate review of a delinquency adjudication, and a transcript of the proceedings, are not ruled upon. Pp. 387 U. S. 57-58.

99 Ariz. 181, 407 P.2d 760, reversed and remanded.

To read the rest of the opinion in In re Gault, go to Nolos US Supreme Court Center.

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