Jerry Gault was a 15-year-old boy who was accused of making a prank call to his
neighbour. The neighbour filed a complaint. Jerry was arrested at home with his parents at
work, and the officer who arrested him did not try to contact Jerry's parents (Williams, 2017).
The hearing was held the next day, and there were no court reporters present. There was no
one to testify, and neither did any witness present themselves. Jerry was not informed of his
charges. He appeared before the Judge without an attorney as juveniles were not allowed to
have counsel at this time (Williams, 2017). After the hearing, he was taken back to detention
and later on allowed to go home.
After returning to the court, similar to the first hearing, no witnesses nor the offended
were present. In addition, no formal charges were read to Jerry, and he did not get an
opportunity to present his evidence. In the end, the Judge of the Arizona State Supreme Court
sentenced him to a juvenile detention facility until he got to 21 years (Williams, 2017). The
case was appealed at the Supreme Court of the U.S as Jerry's parents felt that the State Court
had failed to comply with requirements of the 14th Amendment (Williams, 2017). Jerry's
family argued that Arizona's Juvenile Code be defined as invalid as it was operating opposite
to the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment as it did not clearly lay out the procedural
precautions for Juveniles.
After the case was appealed at the Supreme Court of the United States, the court
decided that the Juvenile Court had not met the requirements of the fourteenth amendment of
the United States constitution (FindLaw, 2019). These requirements involved adequate notice
of charges, notification of the Juvenile parents about the arrest and their son's charges, the
opportunity for cross-examination and presentation of evidence, Juvenile rights to counsel,
and adequate safeguards against self-incrimination (Christopher J. Schreck, 2017). The
Supreme Court of the United States, by a score of 8-1, decided that the Juvenile Court had
not complied with the requirements of the fourteenth amendments. This was true as Jerry's
parents were not informed of their son's arrest and charges, no witnesses available, Jerry was
not allowed to have a lawyer, and there were no safeguards against self-incrimination. Justice
Fortas wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court on Jerry's case.
Justice Fortas, who wrote the opinion, delivered an accusation of the Juvenile court
when he said, "Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a
kangaroo court." (FindLaw, 2019) Numerous of the straightforward rights that are in most
cases taken for granted in adult court were not considered for Gault's case, such as the right to
challenge witnesses, right to counsel, among other significant requirements that are part of
the United States constitution (FindLaw, 2019). Both Justice Harlan and Stewart did not
agree with the decision of the court. Harlan specified that the court had gone too far in giving
such a judgment. On the other hand, Justice Stewart explained that the Supreme Court's
decision was entirely illogical in terms of the constitution, and at the same time, unwise based
on the judicial policy (FindLaw, 2019). By supporting the decision of the court, Justice Black
explained that where an individual, infant or an adult, can be arrested by the State, charged,
and sentenced for going against the laws of the State, then the State orders the criminal to be
incarcerated for six years, such a criminal is required to be tried in accordance with the
requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment (FindLaw, 2019). Therefore, although some
opposed the Supreme Court's decision, the majority of the members were for the opinion
written by Justice Fortas.
From my perspective, the Supreme Court's decision was considered a landmark as it
led to the changes of the Juvenile laws. The Supreme Court specified that although junior
criminals are not entitled to every protection defined in the constitution, that does not mean
they are without constitutional protection (FindLaw, 2019). In relation to changing the
juvenile laws, the Supreme Court set out several procedural requirements applicable to minor
offenders. First, the minor offender and their parents should be informed in writing on the
charges against their child. The communication should be done early to allow them to prepare
for the hearing (Christopher J. Schreck, 2017). Second, the minor offender and his/her
parents must be informed of the right to be represented by a lawyer, and if they cannot afford
one, the court must appoint one for them. In addition, the court specified that just like adult
criminals, minor offenders were also entitled to the Fifth Amendments privileges against self-
incrimination, and, lastly, the minor offender has the right to hear the testimonies from the
witnesses and confront the testimony through cross-examination (Williams, 2017). These
changes in the law that defined the constitutional privileges that were to be enjoyed by minor
offenders made this case a landmark. It was the first time the Supreme Court of the United
States addressed such a case that involved a change of laws.
Christopher J. Schreck, M. L. (2017). The Encyclopedia of Juvenile Delinquency anf
Justice. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
FindLaw. (2019). United States Supreme Court: IN RE GAULT(1967).
Williams, L. M. (2017). In re Gault. Wiley Online Library ,