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In re Gault facts for kids

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In re Gault
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
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.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Fortas, joined by Warren, Douglas, Clark, Brennan
Concurrence Black
Concurrence White
Concur/dissent Harlan
Dissent Stewart
Laws applied
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.

The Court's ruling in this case was so important for children's rights that Justice Earl Warren said it would become "the Magna Carta for juveniles."


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

Constitutional rights

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.")

Also, 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."

Supreme Court cases

Based on these two amendments, the Supreme Court decided these landmark 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.

Juvenile courts

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.


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.

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