In Re Gault

387 U.S. 1 (1967)

Gerald Gault, a 15-year-old boy, was taken into the Sheriff's custody after a complaint that he had made a lewd telephone call. No notice of the Sheriff's custody was given to Gerald's parents until his mother went to the detention home and was notified orally that he was there for making an obscene phone call. The following day, the deputy sheriff filed a petition in the juvenile court but did not serve a copy on Gerald's parents. Furthermore, the petition was void of any factual basis for judicial action, stating only that he was a juvenile delinquent. During the hearing, no witness was sworn, no counsel for Gerald was present, and the officer stated that Gerald admitted to making the lewd remarks after questioning, although Gerald's parents had never been present for any questioning nor had Gerald or his parents been advised of Gerald's right to remain silent or to be represented by counsel. Gerald was ordered committed to state's custody as a juvenile delinquent until he reached the age of majority.

Constitutional Issue
In this case, the Court considered whether the Due Process Clause applies to juvenile delinquency proceedings. In its analysis, the Court considered the realities of juvenile court and behaviors:

"In view of this, it would be extraordinary if our Constitution did not require the procedural regularity and the exercise of care implied in the phrase "due process." Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court. The traditional ideas of Juvenile Court procedure, indeed, contemplated that time would be available and care would be used to establish precisely what the juvenile did and why he did it -- was it a prank of adolescence or a brutal act threatening serious consequences to himself or society unless corrected?"

Building on the Gideon decision, the Court extended to children the same rights as adults by providing counsel to the indigent child in delinquency proceedings: "We conclude that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that in respect of proceedings to determine delinquency which may result in commitment to an institution in which the juvenile's freedom is curtailed, the child and his parents must be notified of the child's right to be represented by counsel retained by them, or if they are un able to afford counsel, that counsel will be appointed to represent the child."

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