In re Gault Establishes Due Process Rights for JuvenilesHistorical
In In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), the U.S. Supreme Court held that juveniles facing delinquency prosecutions must be afforded the due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The case is viewed as turning point in the constitutional rights of juveniles.
Facts of In re Gault
Gerald Gault, who was 15-years-old, was taken into custody based on a complaint that he had made lewd telephone calls. At a hearing before a juvenile court judge, the complaining witness was not present, no sworn testimony was heard, no transcript was made, and no testimony recorded. Nonetheless, Gerald was ordered committed to the State Industrial School as a juvenile delinquent until he reached the age of majority. Had he been an adult, the maximum penalty was a fine of $50 or imprisonment for two months.
Gault’s parents 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, arguing that Gault was denied various procedural due process rights. The State Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the writ. While it agreed 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.
Supreme Court’s Decision in In re Gault
By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court reversed. Justice Abe Fortas authored the majority opinion of the court, writing: “The condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”
In reaching its decision, the Court highlighted the importance of the Due Process Clause, noting it “is the primary and indispensable foundation of individual freedom” and that “the procedural rules which have been fashioned from the generality of due process are our best instruments for the distillation and evaluation of essential facts from the conflicting…data that life and our adversary methods present.”
Given the importance of due process rights, the Court concluded that juveniles were entitled to the same procedural protections as adults, including the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, the right to notice of the charges, and the right to a full hearing on the merits of the case. Because the procedures employed in Gault’s case failed to satisfy the above requirements, the Supreme Court held that his commitment to the State Industrial School violated the Sixth Amendment. “Commitment is a deprivation of liberty. It is incarceration against one’s will, whether it is called ‘criminal’ or ‘civil,’” Justice Fortas wrote.
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- Establishment ClauseFree Exercise Clause
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedoms of Press
- Freedom of Assembly, and Petitition
- The Right to Bear Arms
- Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- Due Process
- Eminent Domain
- Rights of Criminal Defendants
Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.