On June 8th of 1964, a 15 year-old boy named Gerald Gault was accused of making an inappropriate phone call with his friend Ronald Lewis to Mrs.
Cook. They were arrested and sent to Children’s Detention Home after Mrs. Cook had complained. Gault was still on probation for another act at the time. Nobody had told Gault’s family when he was arrested until they eventually found out from Ronald Lewis’ family.
At the time, minors were not given due process rights because “unlike an adult, a child has a right ‘not to liberty but to custody’ ” (unc.edu).Constitutional Challenge The juvenile court that the first hearing took place (June 9) sentenced Gault to 5 years in juvenile detention. This was very unfair because of an adult had committed the same crime, they would only have to pay a $50 fine and no more than two months in jail. This had violated Gault’s due process right in the 14th Amendment, because he did not receive equal treatment due to the fact he was a minor. He then proceeded to the Superior Court, which dismissed his case.
Next was the Arizona Supreme Court, which affirmed his case (agreed with the decision of the lower court). Path to SCOTUSSSAD: Juvenile Court ? Superior Court ? Arizona Supreme Court ? SCOTUSJustice’s RulingJuveniles were charged with delinquency for denying Gault of his due process rights. His family was not told at the time of his arrest, he wasn’t able to get an appellate review, wasn’t given an opportunity for cross-examination, and his right to self-incrimination was not respected. The judges voted 8-1 with Stewart having a dissenting opinion. Stewart states that juvenile proceedings should not be the the court’s decision, the court is for criminal trials. He also claims that juveniles are not for punishments, but are actually for changing a child’s behaviors, therefore is not a very extreme punishment.
Lastly, he believes that due process rights in a criminal case should should protect you from less things, such as him believing self-incrimination shouldn’t apply to all juvenile cases. The Big Idea / Historical SignificanceDue Process: Treating everyone (all citizens) equally in the judicial system, and making sure everyone’s rights are protected.Delinquency: A minor crime/wrongdoingA few years after this case, the Supreme Court decided that children may have the same due process rights as adults when found guilty of a misdemeanor. In this case, Gault did not have to go to juvenile detention because his due process rights were not respected, and the plaintiff was absent from all of the hearings.
So finally, the court stated “that, absent a valid confession, a determination of delinquency and an order of commitment to a state institution cannot be sustained in the absence of sworn testimony subjected to the opportunity for cross-examination.”