Court case In re Gault
Children’s basic rights were at issue in the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case In re Gault. Through this case the Court justices decided that children in the juvenile justice system should be afforded the same basic rights as adults in court situations, including the right to have an attorney represent him, to cross-examine witnesses, and to be appraised of his right to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
The Supreme Court voted almost unanimously to ensure that children shared the same legal rights as adults.
When a neighbor complained that a teenager was making lewd phone calls to her house, the local juvenile court was within its purview to arrest and detain the minor without notifying his parents, to hold him for an indeterminate period without a hearing, to release him with little notice, to set a hearing on the matter with little notice and no opportunity to have a public defender, and to be sentenced for an extended period of detention that exceeded the prison time an adult could receive for a similar offense.
Gerald Gault was the 15-year-old from Arizona who experienced this scenario at the hands of a juvenile court judge. His accuser never appeared in court to be cross-examined; the judge allowed hearsay about previous (and unsubstantiated) activities to influence the case, and Gault’s parents had no recourse to appeal when the judge imposed a six year term of detention for the teen’s single offense of making lewd phone calls to a neighbor. An adult in a similar case would have faced a maximum of several months’ jail time.
Since the Arizona juvenile court system did not allow appeals, Gault’s parents petitioned Arizona Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus to get their son released. The court referred the case back to the original judge who denied the petition to return their son. The parents later appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court based on the denial of the habeas petition and challenged the constitutionality of the state Juvenile court system. The state Supreme Court found that Gault’s due process rights had not been violated, so the parents then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court found that Gault’s rights had been violated including in due process and his right to legal representation.