What is 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. After Jerry made the phone call, he 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 remain silent, 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 US Supreme Court. The Court determined that Jerry’s trial violated his constitutional right to due process, which every citizen—including a child—is guaranteed.

In re Gault, as the case came to be known, transformed juvenile court proceedings and afforded children essential rights that are the foundation of a fair juvenile justice system. On May 15, 1967, the Supreme Court said children have the same basic rights in America’s courtrooms as adults when they are prosecuted. These rights include the right to counsel, the right to notice of charges against them, the right to remain silent, and the right to cross-examine witnesses.

33 states have no laws saying how young is too young to prosecute a child
In some counties across the country, up to 80%  of children are denied their constitutional right to an attorney in juvenile court.
Black youth are 2.3x more likely than white youth to be referred to law enforcement in school.

More than one million times per year, children in America are charged with crimes in juvenile court. The overwhelming majority of children in delinquency courts are prosecuted for non-violent offenses like disturbing the peace, school fights, and petty theft—normal adolescent misconduct. Children need a skilled attorney to protect their rights and help them become successful adults in a country that incarcerates more children than any other in the world.

Highlighting the importance of providing effective attorneys for children in court, the National Juvenile Defender Center’s Staff Attorney and Policy Counsel Christina Gilbert said, “It is common sense but not common practice to afford youth their right to an attorney in juvenile court.”

The Gault at 50 Campaign, sponsored by the National Juvenile Defender Center, seeks to ensure that every child can access a skilled attorney in America’s juvenile justice system. For more information, visit www.gaultat50.org.


  • No child should ever stand alone in America’s courtrooms.
  • Children are our most vulnerable defendants and our most valuable assets.
  • Children’s right to counsel is common sense but not common practice.
  • Fifty years later, the promise of Gault has not yet been realized.
    Let’s fulfill the promise and ensure the rights of children to due process. 
21 states do not restrict shackling of children in juvenile court
LGBTQ Youth make up 7% of the overall youth population but 20% of youth in the juvenile justice system.
In some counties across the country, up to 80 percent of children are denied their constitutional right to an attorney in juvenile court.

The Promise of Gault — The Work Continues

More  on juvenile justice history, issues and challenges that remain, information and resources to further your knowledge, and quotes and stories that inspire us in the work.   Check back for future updates.

Know Your Rights

Do you Know Your Rights –and do you know that even young people are entitled to due process?  That’s what we are celebrating this month as we recognize the 50th anniversary of In re Gault.   It’s important for all of us – young people and adults – to know our rights and to be prepared in the event we are in a situation where we are engaging with law enforcement.

  1. You have the right to be free from Self Incrimination: You don’t have to speak to an officer or give a written statement
  2. You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches.  Officers need your consent or a good reason to think you have something illegal before searching you or your belongings.
  3. You have a right to be free from excessive force.  That includes bullying, harassment and discrimination.
  4. You have a right to be free from arbitrary arrest.  Officers much know facts that show it’s more likely than not that you committed a crime before placing you under arrest.
Juvenile Justice Timeline





Raise the Age North Carolina
With recent agreements in New York between the legislature and the governor’s office to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, North Carolina may soon be the only state that still requires the prosecution of all 16- and 17- year-olds accused of a crime in the adult criminal justice system. This law deprives children of proper services, increases the likelihood children will recidivate, and reduces the likelihood they will pursue employment and higher education.

Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 youth are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system every year, and nearly 10,000 youth are locked in adult jails or prisons on any given day. The most recent statistics for North Carolina are from 2014, when 5,689 16 and 17-year-olds were convicted as adults, 3.3% for Class A-E felonies, 16.3% for lesser felonies and 80.4% for misdemeanors.

HB 280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act,  was introduced in the N.C. General Assembly on March 8, 2017.  This bill would “raise the age” of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina to 17 for low-level felonies and misdemeanors. Council for Children’s Rights supports this legislation and efforts to Raise the Age because:

  • Raising the Age can strengthen families. While the criminal justice system cuts parents out of the process, the juvenile system requires their participation and thus serves to strengthen parents’ influence on their teens.
  • Youth sent to adult jails and prisons face greater risks of exacerbated emotional and mental health problems, including greater risks of suicide.
  • Young offenders handled in the juvenile justice system are less likely to re-offend and more likely to complete their high school education.

Learn more about the issue and how you can take action by visiting our Raise The Age page.



“The condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”

– Justice Abe Fortas, Gault, 387 U.S. at 28.


“The right to representation by counsel is not a formality. It is not a grudging gesture to a ritualistic requirement. It is the essence of justice.”

–Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 561 (1966)


“A right delayed is a right denied.”

–Martin Luther King Jr.

Take Action - Sign the Statement of Priniciples

It is time to fulfill the promise. Justice demands that all children in juvenile court have meaningful access to qualified counsel. Won’t you consider joining Council for Children’s Rights in endorsing the Gault at 50 campaign’s Statement of Principles. They are:
  • Every child should be provided a juvenile defense attorney at the earliest possible moment.
  • Every child should be automatically eligible for a publicly funded juvenile defense attorney.
  • A child’s juvenile defense attorney should represent the child throughout the time the child is under the jurisdiction or supervision of the juvenile justice system, from arrest through post-disposition, which may include incarceration, probation, and/or parole, related appeals, and reentry.
  • Every juvenile defense attorney must receive specialized training and support to be an effective advocate for children.
  • Publicly funded defense systems must provide the necessary training, leadership, funding, tools, and resources to develop juvenile defenders with specialized knowledge and expertise.

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