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In re Gault

In 1964, 15-year-old Gerald “Jerry” 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, Jerry was taken into police custody without his parents being notified of his arrest. Jerry 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. Jerry appealed and the case made its way to the U.S Supreme Court. The Court determined that Jerry’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.

  • May 31, 2017 - Columbus, Ohio

    13th Annual Ohio Juvenile Defender Leadership Summit

    This year, for the 13th annual summit, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision In re Gault and the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Ohio's In re C.S., which strengthened the right to counsel for Ohio’s youth.
  • Jun 2, 2017 - Atlanta, Georgia

    SJDC 7th Annual Regional Summit: Gault at 50

    The Southern Juvenile Defender Center is hosting its 7th Annual Regional Summit, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of In re Gault. The Summit will take place at Emory University School of Law.
  • Jun 11, 2017 - Washington, DC

    2017 Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) Summer Academy

    The National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC) and the Georgetown Law Juvenile Justice Clinic are excited to announce a Call for Applications to the 2017 Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) Summer Academy.
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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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