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Gault at 50: North Carolina

This page serves those in North Carolina who are interested in learning more about the state’s response to the In re Gault decision through resources, comments and reflections.


Gault’s History: A Half-Century of Children’s Rights

On May 15, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court granted due process rights to children in the landmark case of In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). The case involved 15-year-old Gerald Gault, who was taken into police custody without notice to his parents, held for four days, and committed to a juvenile facility for a maximum of six years for making a prank phone call to his neighbor. He received no prior notice of the charges and was adjudicated delinquent following an informal hearing with a judge without any witnesses or representation by counsel. His case would spark outrage today but was the norm for juvenile proceedings at the time. When the Supreme Court reversed Gault’s adjudication, it transformed the nature of juvenile court by defining basic requirements of due process that now apply to all delinquency hearings. These rights include:

  • the right to notice of the charges;
  • the right to an attorney;
  • the right to remain silent; and
  • the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses.

North Carolina: Championing Juvenile Justice and Fulfilling Gault’s Promise

North Carolina has long been a leader in protecting the rights of youth and ensuring the due process of law in delinquency court. Held in the District Court Division, delinquency court was standardized throughout North Carolina, starting in 1966 and completed by 1970. The right to court appointed counsel without waiver was established in 1979. Juvenile delinquency judges are encouraged to become experts through the Juvenile Certification Training offered by the UNC School of Government. Certification includes a core curriculum of courses, minimum time presiding in court, and continuing education. Similarly, juvenile defense counsel and prosecutors can become North Carolina Bar Board Certified Specialists. One of the few certifications of its kind in the country, prospective attorneys must have prerequisite experience, references, and continuing legal education before taking the certification exam. North Carolina also provides unique leadership opportunities for attorneys and judges through the North Carolina Bar Association Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section and juvenile defense attorneys in the North Carolina Advocates for Justice Juvenile Defense Section.

Watch Marcus Thompson at the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender discuss Gault at 50 in North Carolina and how the state is working toward access to justice for children.

What North Carolinians Say About Gault

Gault is at the heart of the mission of Council for Children’s Rights, ensuring that children have a voice and that they play an integral role in the decisions that affect their lives and futures. Gault is a shield against the misperception that children lack the rights of adults and guarantees that they receive the same protections that are afforded to all citizens.” — Bob Simmons, Executive Director, Council for Children’s Rights

In re Gault is historic because it guarantees every child important due process rights in a delinquency proceeding. However, Gault’s legacy is also about the responsibility of juvenile courts, defenders, prosecutors, juvenile justice professionals and other advocates to ensure that a child’s rights are protected. The 50th Anniversary of Gault is an opportunity not only to reaffirm this constitutional mandate but also to look beyond Gault to determine what additional protections are needed.” — LaToya B. Powell, Assistant Professor of Public Law and Government, UNC Chapel Hill School of Government

“When an adolescent contacts the juvenile system and as Courts strive to modify the youth’s behavior, procedural fairness and the credibility of the system is critical. The importance of the Gault decision cannot be understated; it provided foundational support essential in the mission of juvenile justice.” – Todd Williams, District Attorney, Buncombe County  

“Youth with disabilities are the most vulnerable defendants in our criminal justice system. They also make up the vast majority of the youth in that system. In re Gault’s holding that minors have, at the very least, the same level of due process rights as adult defendants is crucial to protecting the rights of kids with disabilities.” – Matt Herr, Attorney and Policy Analyst, Disability Rights NC

“Important as they are, it is not the resulting constitutional rights for juveniles that is so inspiring about In re Gault. It is the courage to oppose an unjust rule of law and the perseverance to successfully navigate through the maze of legal appeals to the highest court in the land to achieve the just result that is so impressive.” – Judge Lawrence Fine, 21st Judicial District, Forsyth County

In re Gault Explained: A Five Part Series

Juvenile Defender Eric Zogry and UNC Professor LaToya Powell explore the history and the rights guaranteed to children as a result of In re Gault in this five-part series. In these pieces they detail the juvenile’s right to counsel, right to notice, and right to confrontation.

Raise the Age in North Carolina

North Carolina is quickly approaching the promise of Gault by re-considering policy on prosecuting 16 and 17 year olds as adults.  Please find below recent resources on this issue.

Events Calendar

MAY 15, 2017: Please join the conversation on Twitter on May 15th as NC OJD hosts its first Twitter Town Hall commemorating 50 years of Gault! Use #Gault50NC from noon to 1pm to show your support, ask questions, and comment on what NC has done or could do better to fulfill the promise and how Gault relates to N.C. raising the age!

MAY 17, 2017: Council for Children’s Rights Celebrates Gault at 50 in Charlotte, NC. Learn more.

JUNE 2-3, 2017: 7th Annual Southern Juvenile Defender Center Regional Summit, hosted by Emory Law School in Atlanta, Georgia

Save the Date

Contact Us

For questions, assistance, or further resources, please contact the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender at (919) 890-1650.

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.

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    Vermont Public Radio
    Jun 14, 2017 - News Item

    Lahey: Due Process for Juveniles

    Fifty years on, many states continue to deny juveniles their right to counsel, either through legislation or in its implementation.
    May 24, 2017 - News Item

    Gault at 50: Conference to Offer Tips for ‘Front-Line’ Juvenile Lawyers

    You could call it the obscene phone call heard 'round the world. The May 1967 Supreme Court ruling that threw out Gerald Gault’s six-year commitment for lewd remarks over the telephone has led to half a century of juvenile justice reform.
    The Atlantic
    May 22, 2017 - News Item

    The Children Being Denied Due Process

    On June 8, 1964, Gerald Gault and Ronald Lewis were arrested when their neighbor, Mrs. Cook, alleged they had made a lewd phone call to her home. The police detained Gerald overnight and held a hearing the next day in the juvenile judge’s chambers.
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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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