In 1964, 15-year old Gerald Gault was sent to an “Industrial School,” a prison for juveniles, in Arizona. Gault was accused of making a lewd phone call to a neighbor. After a brief, off-the-record session, a judge sentenced him to six years in juvenile detention, until he reached adulthood at 21. Had he been an adult, he may have faced a $50 fine or two months in prison. But the proceedings in juvenile court were informal and off-the-record: no one was sworn in, no transcript existed, and the Gaults had no assistance of counsel.
Outraged by the harsh punishment, the parents found a lawyer who agreed to take the case, Amelia Dietrich Lewis, a transplant and seasoned attorney from New York City, who operated her own law practice in Sun City, Arizona, and did pro bono work for the local chapter of the ACLU. In consultation with Justice Lorna Lockwood of the Arizona Supreme Court, she initiated a habeas corpus hearing, and -- with the support of the ACLU -- took the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
On May 15, 1967, Abe Fortas delivered the landmark United States Supreme Court opinion in Application of Paul and Marjorie Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). The Court held that juveniles accused of crimes in a delinquency proceeding must be afforded many of the same due process rights as adults, such as the right to counsel, the right to confront witnesses, and the right against forced self-incrimination, and the right to maintain a record of the proceedings. While the decision had a profound impact on the way juvenile justice was administered, juvenile justice advocates continue to debate the challenges of due process in juvenile court and argue that the right to counsel in juvenile court remains a promise unfulfilled.
This research portal has been created to mark the 50th anniversary of the in re Gault decision in 2017. It is organized into several sections. The first section offers an overview of archival materials documenting the case that are housed at a variety of repositories in the United States. The second section provides a link to the NJDC in re Gault Research Collection (NEJL 067), a collection compiled by the National Juvenile Defender Center documenting the history of due process in juvenile court in the United States.
The third section offers an overview of selected secondary literature analyzing the history of the case. The fourth section offers selected literature from the past five decades on the impact of in re Gault and the challenges facing contemporary juvenile justice. Finally, the portal offers links to the websites of juvenile justice organizations.