In re Gault

387 U.S. 1
In re Gault
Argued: December 6, 1966
Decided: May 15, 1967


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.

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Concurring Opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK, concurring.

The juvenile court laws of Arizona and other States, as the Court points out, are the result of plans promoted by humane and forward-looking people to provide a system of courts, procedures, and sanctions deemed to be less harmful and more lenient to children than to adults. For this reason, such state laws generally provide less formal and less public methods for the trial of children. In line with this policy, both courts and legislators have shrunk back from labeling these laws as “criminal” and have preferred to call them “civil.” This, in part, was to prevent the full application to juvenile court cases of the Bill of Rights safeguards, including notice as provided in the Sixth Amendment, [1] the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth, [2] the right against self-incrimination [p60] guaranteed by the Fifth, [3] and the right to confrontation guaranteed by the Sixth. [4] The Court here holds, however, that these four Bill of Rights safeguards apply to protect a juvenile accused in a juvenile court on a charge under which he can be imprisoned for a term of years. This holding strikes a well nigh fatal blow to much that is unique about the juvenile courts in the Nation. For this reason, there is much to be said for the position of my Brother STEWART that we should not pass on all these issues until they are more squarely presented. But since the majority of the Court chooses to decide all of these questions, I must either do the same or leave my views unexpressed on the important issues determined. In these circumstances, I feel impelled to express my views.

The juvenile court planners envisaged a system that would practically immunize juveniles from “punishment” for “crimes” in an effort to save them from youthful indiscretions and stigmas due to criminal charges or convictions. I agree with the Court, however, that this exalted ideal has failed of achievement since the beginning of the system. Indeed, the state laws from the first one on contained provisions, written in emphatic terms, for arresting and charging juveniles with violations of state criminal laws, as well as for taking juveniles by force of law away from their parents and turning them over to different individuals or groups or for confinement within some state school or institution for a number of years. The latter occurred in this case. Young Gault was arrested and detained on a charge of violating an Arizona penal law by using vile and offensive language to a lady on the telephone. If an adult, he [p61] could only have been fined or imprisoned for two months for his conduct. As a juvenile, however, he was put through a more or less secret, informal hearing by the court, after which he was ordered, or, more realistically, “sentenced,” to confinement in Arizona’s Industrial School until he reaches 21 years of age. Thus, in a juvenile system designed to lighten or avoid punishment for criminality, he was ordered by the State to six years’ confinement in what is in all but name a penitentiary or jail.

Where a person, infant or adult, can be seized by the State, charged, and convicted for violating a state criminal law, and then ordered by the State to be confined for six years, I think the Constitution requires that he be tried in accordance with the guarantees of all the provisions of the Bill of Rights made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Undoubtedly this would be true of an adult defendant, and it would be a plain denial of equal protection of the laws — an invidious discrimination — to hold that others subject to heavier punishments could, because they are children, be denied these same constitutional safeguards. I consequently agree with the Court that the Arizona law as applied here denied to the parents and their son the right of notice, right to counsel, right against self-incrimination, and right to confront the witnesses against young Gault. Appellants are entitled to these rights, not because “fairness, impartiality and orderliness — in short, the essentials of due process” — require them and not because they are “the procedural rules which have been fashioned from the generality of due process,” but because they are specifically and unequivocally granted by provisions of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments which the Fourteenth Amendment makes applicable to the States.

A few words should be added because of the opinion of my Brother HARLAN who rests his concurrence and [p62] dissent on the Due Process Clause alone. He reads that clause alone as allowing this Court “to determine what forms of procedural protection are necessary to guarantee the fundamental fairness of juvenile proceedings” “in a fashion consistent with the ‘traditions and conscience of our people.'” Cf. Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165. He believes that the Due Process Clause gives this Court the power, upon weighing a “compelling public interest,” to impose on the States only those specific constitutional rights which the Court deems “imperative” and “necessary” to comport with the Court’s notions of “fundamental fairness.”

I cannot subscribe to any such interpretation of the Due Process Clause. Nothing in its words or its history permits it, and “fair distillations of relevant judicial history” are no substitute for the words and history of the clause itself. The phrase “due process of law” has through the years evolved as the successor in purpose and meaning to the words “law of the land” in Magna Charta which more plainly intended to call for a trial according to the existing law of the land in effect at the time an alleged offense had been committed. That provision in Magna Charta was designed to prevent defendants from being tried according to criminal laws or proclamations specifically promulgated to fit particular cases or to attach new consequences to old conduct. Nothing done since Magna Charta can be pointed to as intimating that the Due Process Clause gives courts power to fashion laws in order to meet new conditions, to fit the “decencies” of changed conditions, or to keep their consciences from being shocked by legislation, state or federal.

And, of course, the existence of such awesome judicial power cannot be buttressed or created by relying on the word “procedural.” Whether labeled as “procedural” or “substantive,” the Bill of Rights safeguards, far from [p63] being mere “tools with which” other unspecified “rights could be fully vindicated,” are the very vitals of a sound constitutional legal system designed to protect and safeguard the most cherished liberties of a free people. These safeguards were written into our Constitution not by judges, but by Constitution makers. Freedom in this Nation will be far less secure the very moment that it is decided that judges can determine which of these safeguards “should” or “should not be imposed” according to their notions of what constitutional provisions are consistent with the “traditions and conscience of our people.” Judges with such power, even though they profess to “proceed with restraint,” will be above the Constitution, with power to write it, not merely to interpret it, which I believe to be the only power constitutionally committed to judges.

There is one ominous sentence, if not more, in my Brother HARLAN’s opinion which bodes ill, in my judgment, both for legislative programs and constitutional commands. Speaking of procedural safeguards in the Bill of Rights, he says:

These factors in combination suggest that legislatures may properly expect only a cautious deference for their procedural judgments, but that, conversely, courts must exercise their special responsibility for procedural guarantees with care to permit ample scope for achieving the purposes of legislative programs. . . . [T]he court should necessarily proceed with restraint.

It is to be noted here that this case concerns Bill of Rights Amendments; that the “procedure” power my Brother HARLAN claims for the Court here relates solely to Bill of Rights safeguards, and that he is here claiming for the Court a supreme power to fashion new Bill of Rights safeguards according to the Court’s notions of [p64] what fits tradition and conscience. I do not believe that the Constitution vests any such power in judges, either in the Due Process Clause or anywhere else. Consequently, I do not vote to invalidate this Arizona law on the ground that it is “unfair,” but solely on the ground that it violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments made obligatory on the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Cf. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 412 (Goldberg, J., concurring). It is enough for me that the Arizona law as here applied collides head-on with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments in the four respects mentioned. The only relevance to me of the Due Process Clause is that it would, of course, violate due process or the “law of the land” to enforce a law that collides with the Bill of Rights.


^ . “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation. . . .” Also requiring notice is the Fifth Amendment’s provision that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury. . . .”

^ . “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall . . . have the Assistance of Counsel in his defence.”

^ . “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. . . .”

^ . “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him. . . .”

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