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Review of In Re Gault

Written by Alex Koroknay-Palicz Apr 11, 2011

The case of In Re Gault started when Gerald Gault a 15-year-old citizen of Arizona made several lewd telephone calls to a neighbor. After a complaint by that neighbor Gault was arrested and detained by police. Gault’s parents worried that their son was not at home that day, searched for their missing child. Gault’s parents were never notified of his arrest and only found out later through a friend of Gault’s. Officer Flagg, the arresting officer, filed a petition with the court on the day of the hearing, June 9, 1964, which was not seen by anyone until the habeas corpus hearing on August 17, 1964. Standard trial procedures were not followed with Gerald Gault, and due process protections were not abided by. At the trial Gerald’s father was not present and neither was the complainant, Mrs. Cook. Other procedural guidelines were thrown out as well, for example no one was sworn in and the trial was not recorded. The judge sentenced Gault to be committed to the state industrial school for 6 years until he turned 21. An adult charged with the same crime would have received a maximum of a 50-dollar fine and two months in jail. Gault’s lawyers filed a writ of habeas corpus, but were denied by both the Superior Court of Arizona and the Arizona Supreme Court. The case was then taken to the U.S. Supreme Court and there

Gerald’s counsel argued that the juvenile code of Arizona under which Gerald was found delinquent was invalid because it was contrary to the due process rights: (1) notice of the charges with regard to their timeliness and specificity, (2) right to council, (3) right to confrontation and cross-examination, (4) privilege against self-incrimination, (5) right to a transcript of the trial record, and (6) right to appellate review. (Senna, 1999, p. 579) The Court refused to speculate when this so-called “slippery slope” would become too steep. We face now, however, the two-fold question whether a further reduction in the size of the state criminal trial jury does make the grade too dangerous, The Court refused to speculate when this so-called “slippery slope” would become too steep. We face now, however, the two-fold question whether a further reduction in the size of the state criminal trial jury does make the grade too dangerous,( IN RE GAULT, 387 U.S. 1 (1967))

The U.S. Supreme Court found against the previous Arizona court rulings and determined that juveniles were entitled to due process under the 14th amendment. The court opinion held that, “neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.” (IN RE GAULT, 387 U.S. 1 (1967))

This decision is critical for the application of juvenile justice in this country. From this point forward due process rights and privileges afforded to adults now must be extended to people under 18 as well. Although the court did add certain stipulations to their decision,

We do not in this opinion consider the impact of these constitutional provisions upon the totality of the relationship of the juvenile and the state. We do not even consider the entire process relating to juvenile “delinquents.” For example, we are not here concerned with the procedures or constitutional rights applicable to the pre-judicial stages of the juvenile process, nor do we direct our attention to the post-adjudicative or dispositional process. See note 48, infra. We consider only the problems presented to us by this case. These relate to the proceedings by which a determination is made as to whether a juvenile is a “delinquent” as a result of alleged misconduct on his part, with the consequence that he may be committed to a state institution. As to these proceedings, there appears to be little current dissent from the proposition that the Due Process Clause has a role to play.11 The problem is to ascertain [387 U.S. 1, 14] the precise impact of the due process requirement upon such proceedings. (IN RE GAULT, 387 U.S. 1 (1967))

The court did refer back to several previous court decisions most notably perhaps was Kent v. United States which involved due process issues as well. The court considered many historical decisions with In Re Gault; the majority opinion lists many historical cases that were brought to bear on this case.

This Court has not heretofore decided the precise question. In Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), we considered the requirements for a valid waiver of the “exclusive” jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia so that a juvenile could be tried in the adult criminal court of the District. Although our decision turned upon the language of the statute, we emphasized the necessity that “the basic requirements of due process and fairness” be satisfied in such proceedings.9 Haley v. Ohio, 332 U.S. 596 (1948), involved the admissibility, in a state criminal court of general jurisdiction, of a confession by a 15-year-old boy. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment applied to [387 U.S. 1, 13] prohibit the use of the coerced confession. MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS said, “Neither man nor child can be allowed to stand condemned by methods which flout constitutional requirements of due process of law.”10 To the same effect is Gallegos v. Colorado, 370 U.S. 49 (1962). Accordingly, while these cases relate only to restricted aspects of the subject, they unmistakably indicate that, whatever may be their precise impact, neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.

In my opinion this is a fantastic and historic Supreme Court decision. Mr. Gerald Gault’s rights as an American citizen were clearly trampled, and it is good that the court recognized that. The law has long neglected youth and children, and this case is one step closer to affording youth equal treatment in this nation. Currently the Bill of Rights is not applicable to those under 18, and the statement made by the court that “neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.” (IN RE GAULT, 387 U.S. 1 (1967)) is ground breaking. It was very forward looking by the court to recognize the rights of youth, and at least in one case not treat them as second-class citizens.

Sources

  • IN RE GAULT, 387 U.S. 1 (1967)
  • Senna, J. J. & Siegal, L. J., (1999). Introduction to Criminal Justice. New York: West/Wadsworth.
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