The Warren Court (1953–69)

Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Rights

What happened in the Gault juvenile case?

Law enforcement officials in Arizona arrested 15-year-old Gerald Gault for allegedly making a lewd phone call to a woman in his neighborhood. Officers arrested Gault without informing his parents. A juvenile court judge held a hearing the next day and no transcript was made of the hearing. At a later hearing, the woman who claimed she received the lewd phone call did not testify. Gault was convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of a police officer who claimed that Gault had confessed to him. A juvenile court judge committed Gault as a delinquent, sentencing him to an industrial school until he turned twenty-one.

Gault’s parents filed a lawsuit, contending that their son’s constitutional rights had been violated. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 8–1 in favor of the Gaults. The Court wrote: “The essential difference between Gerald’s case, and a normal criminal case is that safeguards available to adults were discarded in Gerald’s case.”


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