In re Gault facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsIn re Gault
|Argued December 16, 1966
Decided May 15, 1967
|Full case name||In re Gault et al.|
|Citations||387 U.S. 1 (more)
87 S. Ct. 1428; 18 L. Ed. 2d 527; 1967 U.S. LEXIS 1478; 40 Ohio Op. 2d 378
|Prior history||Appeal from the Supreme Court of Arizona|
|Juveniles tried for crimes in delinquency proceedings should have the right of due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, including the right to confront witnesses and the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.|
|Majority||Fortas, joined by Warren, Douglas, Clark, Brennan|
|U.S. Const. Amend. XIV|
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), was a landmark case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967. The Court ruled that juveniles (children and teenagers) have the same rights as adults when they are accused of a crime. For example, they have due process rights, like the right to have a lawyer, when they are being questioned by the police, and when they are on trial.
- Background of the case
- Appeal to the United States Supreme Court
In the four years before the Supreme Court decided In re: Gault, the Court also decided some other very important cases about due process rights – the rights people have when they are accused of a crime. However, these rulings did not apply to children who were being tried in juvenile courts. The case was argued by Norman Dorsen in favor of the juveniles.
Rights for adults
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to ... the Assistance of Counsel for his defence." ("Counsel" is a legal word for "lawyer.")
Supreme Court cases
- Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963): The Court ruled that having a lawyer is necessary for a fair trial. It ruled that any defendant charged with any crime had the right to a lawyer. If the defendant cannot pay for a lawyer, the state must assign them a free lawyer.
- Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966): When a person is being asked whether they committed a crime, they do not have to answer. They cannot get in trouble for not answering. This is called the right against "self-incrimination" (the right not to say anything that proves you committed a crime). Before being questioned, a suspect must be told that they do not have to answer any questions.
These decisions, however, only applied to adult courts. While the Constitution never says that its rights are only for adults, American courts had never given juveniles the same due process rights as adults.
In the United States' court system, there are separate courts for children who are accused of committing crimes or having behavior problems. These are called "juvenile courts."
Every state has its own laws about their juvenile courts. However, usually, if the judge rules that the child is "delinquent," the judge can make that child a "ward of the court." This means the judge is putting the court in charge of the child, and taking that power away from the child's parents. For the worst crimes, the court can decide to put the child in a special school, juvenile prison, or other program away from home, and keep them there until they turn 21.
At the time that Gerald Gault was arrested, juveniles had very few rights in the juvenile justice system. For example, they could be put in jail without a trial, or without even knowing what crime they were being charged with.
Background of the case
On June 8, 1964, a police officer arrested Gerald Gault, a fifteen-year-old. The sheriff did not tell Gault's parents that he had been arrested. He was arrested after a neighbor named Ora Cook who complained that she received an obscene, vulgar phone call. At the time, Gault was on probation. He had been put on probation for six months, starting February 25, 1964, for being with another boy who stole a woman's wallet.
Meanwhile, Gault's mother came home and realized he was missing. She eventually found him at the county Children's Detention Home, but was she not allowed to take him home. Without being charged with a crime, Gault had been put in a juvenile jail.
Gault has always said that his friend Ronald Lewis made the call to Cook from the Gault family's trailer. In 2007, Gault said that once he heard what Lewis said, he kicked Lewis out.
Juvenile court hearings
The next morning, Gault had his first court hearing, in front of Judge McGhee. Judge McGhee usually worked in the Gila County Superior Court (an adult court), but was working in the juvenile court that day.
At the end of the hearing, Judge McGhee said he would think about what to do, and sent Gault back to jail. Gault was kept in jail for a few more days, then was sent home. Nobody ever explained why he was kept in jail or why he was let go. The day he came home, his mother got a note saying that Judge McGhee had ordered another hearing.
|“||[In t]he section of the Arizona Criminal Code [about lewd phone calls] ... The penalty specified in the Criminal Code, which would apply to an adult, is $5 to $50, or imprisonment for not more than two months.
– Justice Abe Fortas, in the United States Supreme Court's later ruling
At the second hearing, McGhee ruled that Gault was "a delinquent child." This meant Gault had broken a state law. McGhee ordered Gault to be sent to the State Industrial School until he turned 21, unless the court decided to let him out before then. This punishment was based on a charge of "Lewd Phone Calls." If Gault had been convicted of the same crime as an adult, the Arizona laws would have allowed a maximum punishment of two months in prison and a fine of $5 to $50.
Problems with the hearings
Gault's accuser, Mrs. Cook, was not at either hearing, even though Mrs. Gault had asked for her to come so she could identify whether Gerald or his friend had made the phone calls. Judge McGhee had said "she didn't have to be present." Judge McGhee had never told Gault's parents that they could bring a lawyer to the hearings or call witnesses to defend Gerald.
Also, nobody wrote a transcript (a record of exactly what was said) during either hearing. Because of this, there was no proof of what Gault or Judge McGhee said during these hearings. Later, Judge McGhee said Gault admitted to saying something "lewd" to Mrs. Cook. Both of Gault's parents insisted that Gerald never admitted to doing anything wrong.
Habeas corpus appeal
At the time, Arizona law did not allow juvenile cases to be appealed. Gault's parents hired a lawyer named Amelia Lewis, who petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus. This means they asked the Supreme Court to let Gerald go because his imprisonment was unfair. The Supreme Court sent the case to the Arizona Superior Court, a regular trial court, for a habeas corpus hearing. This hearing would decide whether Gault was sent to juvenile prison unfairly.
The hearing was held on August 17, 1964. The Gaults' lawyer questioned Judge McGhee about the legal reasons for his actions. She asked McGhee to explain what laws he had used to find Gerald "delinquent."
McGhee gave several answers:
- Gerald used lewd language while another person could hear (this was a misdemeanor under the Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-377)
- Gerald was delinquent under ARS § 8-201(6)(d). This part of the law said that a delinquent child "habitually" (regularly) behaves in ways that "injure or endanger the morals or health of himself or others." As evidence that Gerald was "habitually" dangerous, McGhee gave two reasons:
- He said Gault admitted making "silly calls, or funny calls, or something like that" in the past
- Two years earlier, the juvenile court got a report saying Gault had stolen a baseball glove and lied to the police about it. However, the court never did anything about this because there was no proof
Judge McGhee also said that Gerald was already on probation. This played a part in his decision, he said.
The court dismissed the habeas corpus petition. It ruled that Judge McGhee had enough evidence and legal reasons to send Gault to jail.
Appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court
Next, Amelia Lewis and the Gaults appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court (99 Ariz. 181 (1965)). They had two main arguments. They argued that Gerald's conviction was not legal because he was not given the due process rights in the Constitution. They also argued that the state's set of juvenile laws, the Arizona Juvenile Code, was unconstitutional because it did not include these due process rights.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the Gaults. They said that neither the Juvenile Code or Gerald's conviction violated due process.
Appeal to the United States Supreme Court
Under United States law, the Gaults had only one legal option left. This option was to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but to do this, they would need more lawyers, and that would be expensive. However, lawyers from the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) got involved and worked with Amelia Lewis on the Supreme Court appeal. On December 16, 1966, they went before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had to answer three important legal questions in this case: a specific question, a general question, and a question that would affect every juvenile and court in the country.:
- The specific question: Were Gerald Gault's due process rights violated when he was convicted and sent to juvenile prison? If they were, what should happen to him?
- The general question: Was the Arizona Juvenile Code unconstitutional because it did not give juveniles the due process rights in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?
- The biggest question: Did juveniles even have the same due process rights as adults? Did the Fourteenth Amendment even apply to juvenile court processes?
On May 15, 1967, the Supreme Court voted 8–1 in favor of the Gaults. They ruled that Gerald's due process rights were violated.
|“||The [major] difference between Gerald's case and a normal [adult] criminal case is that [protections] available to adults were discarded in Gerald's case. The summary procedure as well as the long commitment [imprisonment] was possible because Gerald was 15 years of age instead of over 18.||”|
Justice Fortas pointed out that if Gerald were over 18, and were tried in adult court, he would have had many different rights, including the ones in this table.
|Adult Legal Rights:||Guaranteed By:|
|The right to be told what he was charged with and when his hearings would be, with enough time to prepare||Fourteenth Amendment|
|The right to a lawyer (free if the family could not afford one)||Sixth Amendment; Gideon v. Wainwright|
|The right to call witnesses and show evidence that he was not guilty at his trial||Fourteenth Amendment|
|The right not to answer the judge's questions about whether he was guilty||Fifth Amendment; Miranda v. Arizona|
However, because he was 15 and in juvenile court, Gerald got none of these rights.
In the Court's opinion, Justice Fortas wrote that without these due process rights, a person cannot get a fair trial, no matter what age they are. The Fourteenth Amendment says that "no state can take away any person's "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person ... the equal protection of the laws." Since juvenile courts could take away children's freedom by sending them to juvenile prisons, they needed to give juvenile defendants full due process rights. They also needed to give them "equal protection of the laws" – the same protections an adult at risk of going to jail would get.
|“||Neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone."
– Judge Abe Fortas, in the Court's majority opinion
The Court threw out Gerald's conviction and ordered him to be set free. He had spent three years in the Industrial School: two years and ten months longer than he could have possibly spent in prison if he was convicted as an adult.
The Court also ruled Arizona's Juvenile Code unconstitutional. They ruled that Juvenile Codes had to include due process rights.
Before In re Gault, juveniles accused of crimes had very few rights. In re Gault gave due process rights, which juveniles had never had, to children and teenagers being accused of crimes. These protections apply to all juveniles in the United States, not just Arizona. After this decision, by law, all juveniles being accused of crimes must be given the rights in the Fourteenth Amendment. For example:
- They must be told what crime they are being accused of and when they have to go to court, far enough ahead of time that they can prepare (for example, by working on a defense or getting a lawyer)
- The juvenile, and their parents, must be told about their right to a lawyer
- The juvenile (or usually their lawyer) has the right to question the witnesses that say they are guilty, and call their own witnesses to say they are not guilty
- They must be warned that they do not have to answer questions about whether they are guilty, even in court
In other words, In re Gault ruled that every juvenile court in the country had to follow the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Download a video about The Gault case or a video of Gerald Gault talking about his case (from The National Juvenile Defender Center's Gault page )
In re Gault Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.