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In re Gault

In 1964, 15-year-old Gerald “Gerry” Gault was sentenced to serve nearly six years in a state industrial school for allegedly making a prank phone call. Soon after the phone call was made, Gerry was taken into police custody without his parents being notified of his arrest. Gerry reportedly confessed to the crime without a lawyer or his parents present. He was not advised of his right to silence, his right to be represented by an attorney, or the State’s obligation to provide him an attorney if his family could not afford one. Gerry appealed and the case made its way to the U.S Supreme Court. The Court determined that Gerry’s trial violated his right to due process, which every citizenincluding a childis guaranteed.

Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.
Justice Abe Fortas, Gault, 387 U.S. at 28.

The Court held that children facing prosecution in juvenile court have the same due process rights as adults, including:

  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to notice of the charges
  • The right to a full hearing on the merits of the case.

In re Gault, as the case came to be known, transformed loose juvenile court proceedings into formal hearings that afforded children essential rights. These rights, especially the right to an attorney, are the cornerstones of a fair juvenile justice system. But, 50 years later, many children still face charges in complex court systems without the basic representation guaranteed in the Gault decision.

Read the full Gault opinion, authored by Justice Abe Fortas.


Background on the campaign

Nearly five decades have passed since the Court decided Gault. Before 1967, children accused of a crime had virtually no legal rights. They were at the mercy of a legal system that often led to unjust results. But, even with the watershed changes required by the decision in Gault, the impact has not been fully realized for children. As the 50th anniversary of Gault approaches, we must recommit to honoring this landmark decision so that all children may be assured of its benefits. America’s children deserve nothing less. They are our most vulnerable defendants and our most valuable assets.

Watch former Executive Director Kim Dvorchak discuss Gault at 50 and “Why America’s Children Need Good Lawyers” at TEDxFoggyBottom.

In re Gault was a giant step forward for the rights of children. Yet, due to inconsistent enforcement and lack of awareness, the due process rights of our children in delinquency court are not protected. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.


juvenile delinquency cases each year


states have no laws saying how young is too young to prosecute a child


states do not restrict shackling of children in juvenile court


states do not allow jury trials in juvenile court

Upcoming Events

The National Juvenile Defender Center and its allies and partners will be commemorating the Gault decision in the run up to the 50th anniversary. Find an event below.

  • Apr 20, 2017 - Denver, Colorado

    Gault at 50: What Difference Does a Lawyer Make?

    Join the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, Colorado Office of the Public Defender, Colorado Office of the Alternate Defense Counsel & Colorado Office of the Child’s Representative for a free symposium addressing the current state of access to qualified counsel.
  • Apr 21, 2017 - Houston, Texas

    Southwest Juvenile Defender Center’s 16th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference: Gault @ 50

    The Southwest Juvenile Defender Center is hosting its 16th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference: Gault @ 50 on April 21 and 22, 2017, at the University of Houston Law School.
  • Apr 21, 2017 - Memphis, Tennessee

    In re Gault: Inspiration & Aspiration

    Statewide symposium and JTIP training in Tennessee examining the legacy of In re Gault.
  • Apr 21, 2017 - Denver, Colorado

    5th Annual Excellence in Juvenile Defense Conference

    Join us for a full day of CLE credits! Topics include defending juveniles in sex offense cases, addressing trauma and language disabilities, effective oral advocacy, ethics, and so much more! Hosted by CJDC and ADC.
  • Apr 23, 2017 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Gault at 50 Discussion

    On Sunday, April 23, 2017, at 11 am, Professor Sandra Simkins, Director and Co-founder of the Children's Justice Clinic at Rutgers School of Law, is giving a talk, "Gault at 50," at the Philadelphia Ethical Society.
  • Apr 29, 2017 - Los Angeles, California

    35th Annual Juvenile Delinquency Law Training Seminar in Los Angeles

    Join the Los Angeles County Public Defender's Office, Juvenile Division, for its annual training in juvenile defense. Topics include adolescent development, raising race, and effectively working with experts. More info to come!
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About NJDC

At the National Juvenile Defender Center, we promote justice for all children by ensuring excellence in juvenile defense. NJDC was founded to guarantee every child facing prosecution in juvenile court is represented by an attorney who is specialized and trained to defend children.

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