In Re Gault (1967)

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to juvenile defendants as well as adult defendants.

Citation: 387 U.S. 1 (1967)
Date decided: May 15, 1967
Longer case name: In Re Gault
Law type: Criminal
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: Arizona
Topic(s):Due process and Juvenile defendants
Lists:Important cases and zGreatest hits (future)
Attorneys:Norman Dorsen argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were Melvin L. Wulf, Amelia D. Lewis and Daniel A. Rezneck. (American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU)
Others involved:Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by L. Michael Getty, James J. Doherty and Marshall J. Hartman for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and by Edward Q. Carr, Jr., and Nanette Dembitz for the Legal Aid Society and Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, Inc. Nicholas N. Kittrie filed a brief for the American Parents Committee, as amicus curiae.
More info:

Case Importance

From “In re Gault was an important part of the ‘due process revolution’ that took place during the 1960s, during which many of the rights guaranteed by the first ten amendments to the Constitution–the Bill of Rights–were seen to apply at the state as well as the federal level. From the beginning of the twentieth century, juvenile defenders had been subjected to parens patriae, that is, a paternalistic, ostensibly protective attitude towards unruly children. As a result, an entirely separate juvenile justice system had developed. Aiming for flexibility and informality, too often this system resulted in a failure of due process for the defendants who were subjected to it. The Supreme Court first addressed this problem in Kent v. United States (1966), in which the legal process for juvenile offenders–who were often handed lengthy sentences in informal proceedings where they were deprived of due process guarantees–faced what the Court called ‘the worst of both worlds.'”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)



Appellants’ 15-year-old son, Gerald Gault, was taken into custody as the result of a complaint that he had made lewd telephone calls. After hearings before a juvenile court judge, Gerald was ordered committed to the State Industrial School as a juvenile delinquent until he should reach majority. Appellants 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, on the ground of denial of various procedural due process rights. The State Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the writ. Agreeing 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.


1. Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 562 (1966), held “that the [waiver] hearing must measure up to the essentials of due process and fair treatment.” This view is reiterated, here in connection with a juvenile court adjudication of “delinquency,” as a requirement which is part of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution. The holding in this case relates only to the adjudicatory stage of the juvenile process, where commitment to a state institution may follow. When proceedings may result in incarceration in an institution of [p2] confinement, “it would be extraordinary if our Constitution did not require the procedural regularity and exercise of care implied in the phrase ‘due process.'” Pp. 12-31.

2. Due process requires, in such proceedings, that adequate written notice be afforded the child and his parents or guardian. Such notice must inform them “of the specific issues that they must meet,” and must be given “at the earliest practicable time, and, in any event, sufficiently in advance of the hearing to permit preparation.” Notice here was neither timely nor adequately specific, nor was there waiver of the right to constitutionally adequate notice. Pp. 31-34.

3. In such proceedings, the child and his parents must be advised of their right to be represented by counsel and, if they are unable to afford counsel, that counsel will be appointed to represent the child. Mrs. Gault’s statement at the habeas corpus hearing that she had known she could employ counsel, is not “an ‘intentional relinquishment or abandonment’ of a fully known right.” Pp. 34-42.

4. The constitutional privilege against self-incrimination is applicable in such proceedings:

an admission by the juvenile may [not] be used against him in the absence of clear and unequivocal evidence that the admission was made with knowledge that he was not obliged to speak, and would not be penalized for remaining silent.

[T]he availability of the privilege does not turn upon the type of proceeding in which its protection is invoked, but upon the nature of the statement or admission and the exposure which it invites. . . . [J]uvenile proceedings to determine “delinquency,” which may lead to commitment to a state institution, must be regarded as “criminal” for purposes of the privilege against self-incrimination.

Furthermore, experience has shown that “admissions and confessions by juveniles require special caution” as to their reliability and voluntariness, and “[i]t would indeed be surprising if the privilege against self-incrimination were available to hardened criminals, but not to children.”

[S]pecial problems may arise with respect to waiver of the privilege by or on behalf of children, and . . . there may well be some differences in technique — but not in principle — depending upon the age of the child and the presence and competence of parents. . . . If counsel was not present for some permissible reason when an admission was obtained, the greatest care must be taken to assure that the admission was voluntary. . . .

Gerald’s admissions did not [p3] measure up to these standards, and could not properly be used as a basis for the judgment against him. Pp. 44-56.

5. Absent a valid confession, a juvenile in such proceedings must be afforded the rights of confrontation and sworn testimony of witnesses available for cross-examination. Pp. 56-57.

6. Other questions raised by appellants, including the absence of provision for appellate review of a delinquency adjudication, and a transcript of the proceedings, are not ruled upon. Pp. 57-58

From the opinion

On Monday, June 8, 1964, at about 10 a.m., Gerald Francis Gault and a friend, Ronald Lewis, were taken into custody by the Sheriff of Gila County. Gerald was then still subject to a six months’ probation order which had been entered on February 25, 1964, as a result of his having been in the company of another boy who had stolen a wallet from a lady’s purse. The police action on June 8 was taken as the result of a verbal complaint by a neighbor of the boys, Mrs. Cook, about a telephone call made to her in which the caller or callers made lewd or indecent remarks. It will suffice for purposes of this opinion to say that the remarks or questions put to her were of the irritatingly offensive, adolescent, sex variety.

At the time Gerald was picked up, his mother and father were both at work. No notice that Gerald was being taken into custody was left at the home. No other steps were taken to advise them that their son had, in effect, been arrested. Gerald was taken to the Children’s Detention Home. When his mother arrived home at about 6 o’clock, Gerald was not there. Gerald’s older brother was sent to look for him at the trailer home of the Lewis family. He apparently learned then that Gerald was in custody. He so informed his mother. The two of them went to the Detention Home. The deputy probation officer, Flagg, who was also superintendent of the Detention Home, told Mrs. Gault “why Jerry was there,” and said that a hearing would be held in Juvenile Court at 3 o’clock the following day, June 9

Last modified: 2023-01-20 03:51
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
Case internal status notes: