Juvenilesand the Law
Juvenilesand the Law
Case:InRe Gault, 387 U.S. (1967)
OnJune 8, 1964, a 15-year-old boy, Gerald Gault, was arrested by GilaCounty sheriff after receiving complaints from Gerald’s neighbor,Mrs. Cook, who accused him of offensive prank calls (FindLaw, 2016).At the time of the arrest, Gerald’s parents were at work, but thesheriff did not leave a notice to inform them of their son’sarrest. When Mrs. Gault did not find Gerald at home, she sent hisbrother to search for him. Eventually, they discovered that Geraldhas been arrested, but he was to remain in custody until his hearing.Later, the Gaults received a letter notifying them of Gerald’sfuture trial date. However, Mrs. Cook did not do to the trial totestify against Gerald (FindLaw, 2016). Besides, the prosecutor didnot present any recorded testimonies to confirm Mrs. Cook’saccusations.
Thejuvenile court found Gerald guilty and sentenced him to the StateIndustrial School until he turned 21 years. Gerald’s counselclaimed that juvenile code of Arizona under which Gerald was foundguilty was invalid because it contradicted the due process rights.Unfortunately, the Arizona did not allow appeals for cases involvingyoung people. Therefore, the Gaults petitioned the Arizona SupremeCourt to get their son released. Later, the case was appealed to theUnited States Supreme Court (FindLaw, 2016).
Whethera juvenile defendant in delinquency trials has procedural rightsoffered under Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.
TheSupreme Court ruled in Gerald’s favor. The court explained thatGerald had been denied the right to counsel, and he was not formallynotified of the charges against him. Furthermore, the arrestingofficer did not inform Gerald of the right againstself-incrimination, and he did not get the chance to confront hisaccuser. The majority opinion found that the Constitution requiresthe officer to provide notice of the specific charges to both parentsor guardians and the child sufficient to allow them to prepare anadequate defense. Moreover, the federal court ruled that confinementto the State Industrial School was an apparent violation of theFourteenth Amendment (FindLaw, 2016).
TheSupreme Court reasoned that if Gerald were 18 years during the timeof his arrest, he would have been given the procedural safeguardsentitled to adults. The court carefully analyzed the juvenile courtsystem and determined that there are justifiable reasons for treatingyoung people and adults differently. Nonetheless, young people facingcriminal charges and possible incarceration are entitled to certainprocedural safeguards under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due processclause. Consequently, the court highlighted the importance of dueprocess explaining that it is the primary and vital foundation ofindividual freedom (Ramsey & Abrams, 2001).
Furthermore,it showed that the procedural rules that have been formulated fromthe due process were the best strategies for assessing and evaluatingfacts in criminal proceedings. Finally, the court stated that thedetermination of misconduct and confinement to a state institutioncould not be sustained without a sworn testimony subjected to theopportunity for cross-examination. Therefore, it showed that a validconfession was a fundamental part of the due process, which should beprovided even to the young defendants (Ramsey & Abrams, 2001).
Initially,the juvenile court was a place for informal resolution of a broadrange of matters regarding young people thus, the proceedings mainlyfocused on the juvenile’s best interests. The informal processes ofjuvenile courts offered less procedural protection as compared to theadult courts (Krisberg & Austin, 1993). During this period, itwas assumed that if the court applied the same constitutional rightsto children as they did adults, it would hinder the court’sreformative powers. However, this process was problematic because ayoung defendant could be deprived of his or her liberty for severalyears. As such, the Gault case was as an important part of the dueprocess revolution of the 1960s, which guaranteed the use of the billof rights in juvenile proceedings (Krisberg & Austin, 1993).
TheSupreme Court’s decision reaffirmed the purpose of the juvenilecourt, which was to correct rather than punishing the defendants.Consequently, the due process privileges provided to adults were nowto be extended to the juveniles as well (Simonsen, 1991). It was thefirst legal action in which the Supreme Court ruled that juvenilesfacing criminal charges have equivalent legal rights as adults incriminal courts. These privileges included the right to remainsilent, the privilege of counsel, the right to notice of theaccusations, and the right to a full hearing on the merits of thecase. Accordingly, the court’s decision irreversibly changed thenature of the juvenile justice in the country. Besides, it set forththe legal standard, which showed that although the minors are notentitled to every constitutional right afforded to adults, they havethe right to some legal protections (Simonsen, 1991).
Thecourt voted 8-1 indicating that Gerald’s confinement to the StateIndustrial School was a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment’s dueprocess rights. Justice Fortas wrote the majority opinion and JusticeDouglas, Justice Clark, and Justice Harlan wrote the concurringopinions (FindLaw, 2016). Justice Black and Justice White concurredwhile Justice Harlan concurred and dissented in part. On the otherhand, Justice Stewart wrote the dissenting opinion, which explainedthat the purpose of the juvenile justice system was correcting andnot punishment. Thus, the procedural protections used during criminaltrials do not apply (FindLaw, 2016).
FindLaw.(2016). InRe Gault.Retrieved from http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/387/1.html
Krisberg,B., & Austin, J. F. (1993). ReinventingJuvenile Justice.Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Ramsey,S. H., & Abrams, D. E. (2001). Childrenand the Law in a Nutshell.St. Paul, Minnesota: West Group.
Simonsen,C. E. (1991). JuvenileJustice in America.New York: Macmillan.