May 15th, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1. In conjunction with this celebration, the Children’s Law Center, ACLU of Ohio, and Ohio Public Defender are requesting an amendment to Ohio Juvenile Rule of Procedure 3 to strengthen a child’s right to counsel. Read more about the proposed amendment, the amendment itself, a letter of support for the amendment from the National Juvenile Defender Center, and some statistics on the problem this rule aims to fix. Read on to learn more about the Gault decision.
In 1964, 15-year-old Gerald Gault was arrested by the Gila County, Arizona sheriff’s department for making lewd phone calls to his neighbor. Gerald’s parents were not notified of his arrest, and he was placed in detention without access to an attorney. At the juvenile court hearing, Gerald was afforded no due process rights, no counsel, and no advance notification of his charges. The juvenile court judge adjudicated Gerald delinquent and placed him in the State Industrial School for six years. An adult convicted of the same offense would only be subject to a $50 fine. Gerald appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Writing for the majority, Justice Abe Fortas commented that that “Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.” Through the Gault decision, the Supreme Court ensured that children accused of crimes have a right to defense counsel. The decision also provided due process rights to children, including the right to be notified of the allegations against the child, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination.
This decision paved the way for children to have critical rights in juvenile court. But, in some jurisdictions in the U.S., children still appear in court without an attorney. While we commemorate this decision and the rights it provided, we know we must continue to fight for the rights of children. If you are interested in learning more about the Gault decision, the National Juvenile Defender Center launched a website for the 50th anniversary with information, events, and a statement of principles. The website is available here.