In Re Gault (1967) 387 U.S. 1

Fundamental Cases in Criminal Justice by Adam J. McKee

Part V:  Juvenile Justice

The following case has been heavily edited and abridged.  The idea is to make it more readable.  As such, it should not be relied upon as binding authority.

This is an appeal under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2) from a judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona affirming the dismissal of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.  The petition sought the release of Gerald Francis Gault, appellants’ 15-year-old son, who had been committed as a juvenile delinquent to the State Industrial School by the Juvenile Court of Gila County, Arizona.  The Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed dismissal of the writ against various arguments which included an attack upon the constitutionality of the Arizona Juvenile Code because of its alleged denial of procedural due process rights to juveniles charged with being “delinquents.” The court agreed that the constitutional guarantee of due process of law is applicable in such proceedings. It held that Arizona’s Juvenile Code is to be read as “impliedly” implementing the “due process concept.” It then proceeded to identify and describe “the particular elements which constitute due process in a juvenile hearing.” It concluded that the proceedings ending in commitment of Gerald Gault did not offend those requirements. We do not agree, and we reverse. We begin with a statement of the facts.


On Monday, June 8, 1964, at about 10 a. m., Gerald Francis Gault and a friend, Ronald Lewis, were taken into custody by the Sheriff of Gila County.  Gerald was then still subject to a six months’ probation order which had been entered on February 25, 1964, as a result of his having been in the company of another boy who had stolen a wallet from a lady’s purse. The police action on June 8 was taken as the result of a verbal complaint by a neighbor of the boys, Mrs. Cook, about a telephone call made to her in which the caller or callers made lewd or indecent remarks. It will suffice for purposes of this opinion to say that the remarks or questions put to her were of the irritatingly offensive, adolescent, sex variety.

At the time Gerald was picked up, his mother and father were both at work.  No notice that Gerald was being taken into custody was left at the home. No other steps were taken to advise them that their son had, in effect, been arrested. Gerald was taken to the Children’s Detention Home. When his mother arrived home at about 6 o’clock, Gerald was not there. Gerald’s older brother was sent to look for him at the trailer home of the Lewis family. He apparently learned then that Gerald was in custody. He so informed his mother. The two of them went to the Detention Home. The deputy probation officer, Flagg, who was also superintendent of the Detention Home, told Mrs. Gault “why Jerry was there” and said that a hearing would be held in Juvenile Court at 3 o’clock the following day, June 9.

Officer Flagg filed a petition with the court on the hearing day, June 9, 1964.  It was not served on the Gaults. Indeed, none of them saw this petition until the habeas corpus hearing on August 17, 1964. The petition was entirely formal. It made no reference to any factual basis for the judicial action which it initiated. It recited only that “said minor is under the age of eighteen years, and is in need of the protection of this Honorable Court; [and that] said minor is a delinquent minor.” It prayed for a hearing and an order regarding “the care and custody of said minor.”  Officer Flagg executed a formal affidavit in support of the petition.

On June 9, Gerald, his mother, his older brother, and Probation Officers Flagg and Henderson appeared before the Juvenile Judge in chambers. Gerald’s father was not there. He was at work out of the city. Mrs. Cook, the complainant, was not there. No one was sworn at this hearing. No transcript or recording was made. No memorandum or record of the substance of the proceedings was prepared. Our information about the proceedings and the subsequent hearing on June 15, derives entirely from the testimony of the Juvenile Court Judge, Mr. and Mrs. Gault and Officer Flagg at the habeas corpus proceeding conducted two months later.  From this, it appears that at the June 9 hearing Gerald was questioned by the judge about the telephone call. There was conflict as to what he said.

His mother recalled that Gerald said he only dialed Mrs. Cook’s number and handed the telephone to his friend, Ronald. Officer Flagg recalled that Gerald had admitted making the lewd remarks. Judge McGhee testified that Gerald “admitted making one of these [lewd] statements.” At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge said he would “think about it.” Gerald was taken back to the Detention Home. He was not sent to his own home with his parents. On June 11 or 12, after having been detained since June 8, Gerald was released and driven home. There is no explanation in the record as to why he was kept in the Detention Home or why he was released. At 5 p. m. on the day of Gerald’s release, Mrs. Gault received a note signed by Officer Flagg. It was on plain paper, not letterhead. Its entire text was as follows:

“Mrs. Gault:

“Judge McGHEE has set Monday June 15, 1964 at 11:00 A. M. as the date and time for further Hearings on Gerald’s delinquency.”

At the appointed time on Monday, June 15, Gerald, his father and mother, Ronald Lewis and his father, and Officers Flagg and Henderson were present before Judge McGhee.  Witnesses at the habeas corpus proceeding differed in their recollections of Gerald’s testimony at the June 15 hearing. Mr. and Mrs. Gault recalled that Gerald again testified that he had only dialed the number and that the other boy had made the remarks. Officer Flagg agreed that at this hearing Gerald did not admit making the lewd remarks. But Judge McGhee recalled that “there was some admission again of some of the lewd statements.  He—he didn’t admit any of the more serious lewd statements.”  Again, the complainant, Mrs. Cook, was not present. Mrs. Gault asked that Mrs. Cook be present “so she could see which boy that done the talking, the dirty talking over the phone.” The Juvenile Judge said “she didn’t have to be present at that hearing.” The judge did not speak to Mrs. Cook or communicate with her at any time. Probation Officer Flagg had talked to her once—over the telephone on June 9.

At this June 15 hearing a “referral report” made by the probation officers was filed with the court, although not disclosed to Gerald or his parents. This listed the charge as “Lewd Phone Calls.” At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge committed Gerald as a juvenile delinquent to the State Industrial School “for the period of his minority [that is, until 21], unless sooner discharged by due process of law.”  An order to that effect was entered. It recites that “after a full hearing and due deliberation the Court finds that said minor is a delinquent child, and that said minor is of the age of 15 years.”

No appeal is permitted by Arizona law in juvenile cases.  On August 3, 1964, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed with the Supreme Court of Arizona and referred by it to the Superior Court for hearing.

At the habeas corpus hearing on August 17, Judge McGhee was vigorously cross-examined as to the basis for his actions.  He testified that he had taken into account the fact that Gerald was on probation. He was asked “under what section of . . . the code you found the boy delinquent?”

His answer is set forth in the margin.  In substance, he concluded that Gerald came within ARS § 8-201-6 (a), which specifies that a “delinquent child” includes one “who has violated a law of the state or an ordinance or regulation of a political subdivision thereof.”  The law which Gerald was found to have violated is ARS § 13-377. This section of the Arizona Criminal Code provides that a person who “in the presence or hearing of any woman or child . . . uses vulgar, abusive or obscene language, is guilty of a misdemeanor. . . .”  The penalty specified in the Criminal Code, which would apply to an adult, is $ 5 to $ 50, or imprisonment for not more than two months.  The judge also testified that he acted under ARS § 8-201-6 (d) which includes in the definition of a “delinquent child” one who, as the judge phrased it, is “habitually involved in immoral matters.”

Asked about the basis for his conclusion that Gerald was “habitually involved in immoral matters,” the judge testified, somewhat vaguely, that two years earlier, on July 2, 1962, a “referral” was made concerning Gerald, “where the boy had stolen a baseball glove from another boy and lied to the Police Department about it.” The judge said there was “no hearing,” and “no accusation” relating to this incident, “because of lack of material foundation.” But it seems to have remained in his mind as a relevant factor. The judge also testified that Gerald had admitted making other nuisance phone calls in the past which, as the judge recalled the boy’s testimony, were “silly calls, or funny calls, or something like that.”

The Superior Court dismissed the writ, and appellants sought review in the Arizona Supreme Court. That court stated that it considered appellants’ assignments of error as urging (1) that the Juvenile Code, ARS § 8-201 to § 8-239, is unconstitutional because it does not require that parents and children be apprised of the specific charges, does not require proper notice of a hearing, and does not provide for an appeal; and (2) that the proceedings and order relating to Gerald constituted a denial of due process of law because of the absence of adequate notice of the charge and the hearing; failure to notify appellants of certain constitutional rights including the rights to counsel and to confrontation, and the privilege against self-incrimination; the use of unsworn hearsay testimony; and the failure to make a record of the proceedings. Appellants further asserted that it was error for the Juvenile Court to remove Gerald from the custody of his parents without a showing and finding of their unsuitability, and alleged a miscellany of other errors under state law.

The Supreme Court handed down an elaborate and wide-ranging opinion affirming dismissal of the writ and stating the court’s conclusions as to the issues raised by appellants and other aspects of the juvenile process.  In their jurisdictional statement and brief in this Court, appellants do not urge upon us all of the points passed upon by the Supreme Court of Arizona. They urge that we hold the Juvenile Code of Arizona invalid on its face or as applied in this case because, contrary to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the juvenile is taken from the custody of his parents and committed to a state institution pursuant to proceedings in which the Juvenile Court has virtually unlimited discretion, and in which the following basic rights are denied:

  1. Notice of the charges;
  2. Right to counsel;
  3. Right to confrontation and cross-examination;
  4. Privilege against self-incrimination;
  5. Right to a transcript of the proceedings; and
  6. Right to appellate review.

We shall not consider other issues which were passed upon by the Supreme Court of Arizona.  We emphasize that we indicate no opinion as to whether the decision of that court with respect to such other issues does or does not conflict with requirements of the Federal Constitution.


The Supreme Court of Arizona held that due process of law is requisite to the constitutional validity of proceedings in which a court reaches the conclusion that a juvenile has been at fault, has engaged in conduct prohibited by law, or has otherwise misbehaved with the consequence that he is committed to an institution in which his freedom is curtailed.  This conclusion is in accord with the decisions of a number of courts under both federal and state constitutions.

This court has not heretofore decided the precise question. In Kent v. United States (1966), we considered the requirements for a valid waiver of the “exclusive” jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia so that a juvenile could be tried in the adult criminal court of the District.  Although our decision turned upon the language of the statute, we emphasized the necessity that “the basic requirements of due process and fairness” be satisfied in such proceedings. Haley v. Ohio (1948) involved the admissibility, in a state criminal court of general jurisdiction, of a confession by a 15-year-old boy.  The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment applied to prohibit the use of the coerced confession.  MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS said, “Neither man nor child can be allowed to stand condemned by methods which flout constitutional requirements of due process of law.”  To the same effect is Gallegos v. Colorado (1962).  Accordingly, while these cases relate only to restricted aspects of the subject, they unmistakably indicate that, whatever may be their precise impact, neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults alone.

We do not in this opinion consider the impact of these constitutional provisions upon the totality of the relationship of the juvenile and the state. We do not even consider the entire process relating to juvenile “delinquents.” For example, we are not here concerned with the procedures or constitutional rights applicable to the pre-judicial stages of the juvenile process, nor do we direct our attention to the post-adjudicative or dispositional process. We consider only the problems presented to us by this case. These relate to the proceedings by which a determination is made as to whether a juvenile is a “delinquent” as a result of alleged misconduct on his part, with the consequence that he may be committed to a state institution. As to these proceedings, there appears to be little current dissent from the proposition that the Due Process Clause has a role to play. The problem is to ascertain the precise impact of the due process requirement upon such proceedings.

From the inception of the juvenile court system, wide differences have been tolerated—indeed insisted upon— between the procedural rights accorded to adults and those of juveniles. In practically all jurisdictions, there are rights granted to adults which are withheld from juveniles. In addition to the specific problems involved in the present case, for example, it has been held that the juvenile is not entitled to bail, to indictment by grand jury, to a public trial or to trial by jury.  It is frequent practice that rules governing the arrest and interrogation of adults by the police are not observed in the case of juveniles.

The history and theory underlying this development are well-known, but a recapitulation is necessary for purposes of this opinion.  The Juvenile Court movement began in this country at the end of the last century. From the juvenile court statute adopted in Illinois in 1899, the system has spread to every State in the Union, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The constitutionality of Juvenile Court laws has been sustained in over 40 jurisdictions against a variety of attacks.

The early reformers were appalled by adult procedures and penalties, and by the fact that children could be given long prison sentences and mixed in jails with hardened criminals.  They were profoundly convinced that society’s duty to the child could not be confined by the concept of justice alone. They believed that society’s role was not to ascertain whether the child was “guilty” or “innocent,” but “What is he, how has he become what he is, and what had best be done in his interest and in the interest of the state to save him from a downward career.”  The child— essentially good, as they saw it—was to be made “to feel that he is the object of the state’s care and solicitude,” not that he was under arrest or on trial.  The rules of criminal procedure were therefore altogether inapplicable. The apparent rigidities, technicalities, and harshness which they observed in both substantive and procedural criminal law were therefore to be discarded. The idea of crime and punishment was to be abandoned. The child was to be “treated” and “rehabilitated” and the procedures, from apprehension through institutionalization, were to be “clinical” rather than punitive.

These results were to be achieved, without coming to conceptual and constitutional grief, by insisting that the proceedings were not adversary, but that the state was proceeding as parens patriae.  The Latin phrase proved to be a great help to those who sought to rationalize the exclusion of juveniles from the constitutional scheme; but its meaning is murky and its historic credentials are of dubious relevance.  The phrase was taken from chancery practice, where, however, it was used to describe the power of the state to act in loco parentis for the purpose of protecting the property interests and the person of the child.  But there is no trace of the doctrine in the history of criminal jurisprudence.  At common law, children under seven were considered incapable of possessing criminal intent. Beyond that age, they were subjected to arrest, trial, and in theory to punishment like adult offenders. In these old days, the state was not deemed to have authority to accord them fewer procedural rights than adults.

The right of the state, as parens patriae, to deny to the child procedural rights available to his elders was elaborated by the assertion that a child, unlike an adult, has a right “not to liberty but to custody.”  He can be made to attorn to his parents, to go to school, etc. If his parents default in effectively performing their custodial functions—that is, if the child is “delinquent”—the state may intervene.  In doing so, it does not deprive the child of any rights, because he has none. It merely provides the “custody” to which the child is entitled. On this basis, proceedings involving juveniles were described as “civil” not “criminal” and therefore not subject to the requirements which restrict the state when it seeks to deprive a person of his liberty.

Accordingly, the highest motives and most enlightened impulses led to a peculiar system for juveniles, unknown to our law in any comparable context.  The constitutional and theoretical basis for this peculiar system is—to say the least—debatable. And in practice, as we remarked in the Kent case, the results have not been entirely satisfactory. Juvenile Court history has again demonstrated that unbridled discretion, however benevolently motivated, is frequently a poor substitute for principle and procedure.  In 1937, Dean Pound wrote: “The powers of the Star Chamber were a trifle in comparison with those of our juvenile courts . . . .”  The absence of substantive standards has not necessarily meant that children receive careful, compassionate, individualized treatment.

The absence of procedural rules based upon constitutional principle has not always produced fair, efficient, and effective procedures. Departures from established principles of due process have frequently resulted not in enlightened procedure, but in arbitrariness.  The Chairman of the Pennsylvania Council of Juvenile Court Judges has recently observed: “Unfortunately, loose procedures, high-handed methods and crowded court calendars, either singly or in combination, all too often, have resulted in depriving some juveniles of fundamental rights that have resulted in a denial of due process.”

Failure to observe the fundamental requirements of due process has resulted in instances, which might have been avoided, of unfairness to individuals and inadequate or inaccurate findings of fact and unfortunate prescriptions of remedy.  Due process of law is the primary and indispensable foundation of individual freedom.  It is the basic and essential term in the social compact that defines the rights of the individual and delimits the powers which the state may exercise.  As Mr. Justice Frankfurter has said: “The history of American freedom is, in no small measure, the history of procedure.”  But in addition, the procedural rules which have been fashioned from the generality of due process are our best instruments for the distillation and evaluation of essential facts from the conflicting welter of data that life and our adversary methods present.  It is these instruments of due process which enhance the possibility that truth will emerge from the confrontation of opposing versions and conflicting data. “Procedure is to law what ‘scientific method’ is to science.”

It is claimed that juveniles obtain benefits from the special procedures applicable to them which more than offset the disadvantages of denial of the substance of normal due process. As we shall discuss, the observance of due process standards, intelligently and not ruthlessly administered, will not compel the States to abandon or displace any of the substantive benefits of the juvenile process.  But it is important, we think, that the claimed benefits of the juvenile process should be candidly appraised.  Neither sentiment nor folklore should cause us to shut our eyes, for example, to such startling findings as that reported in an exceptionally reliable study of repeaters or recidivism conducted by the Stanford Research Institute for the President’s Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia.  This Commission’s Report states:

“In fiscal 1966 approximately 66 percent of the 16- and 17-year-old juveniles referred to the court by the Youth Aid Division had been before the court previously.  In 1965, 56 percent of those in the Receiving Home were repeaters. The SRI study revealed that 61 percent of the sample Juvenile Court referrals in 1965 had been previously referred at least once and that 42 percent had been referred at least twice before.” Id., at 773.

Certainly, these figures and the high crime rates among juveniles to which we have referred, could not lead us to conclude that the absence of constitutional protections reduces crime, or that the juvenile system, functioning free of constitutional inhibitions as it has largely done, is effective to reduce crime or rehabilitate offenders.  We do not mean by this to denigrate the juvenile court process or to suggest that there are not aspects of the juvenile system relating to offenders which are valuable. But the features of the juvenile system which its proponents have asserted are of unique benefit will not be impaired by constitutional domestication. For example, the commendable principles relating to the processing and treatment of juveniles separately from adults are in no way involved or affected by the procedural issues under discussion.

Further, we are told that one of the important benefits of the special juvenile court procedures is that they avoid classifying the juvenile as a “criminal.”  The juvenile offender is now classed as a “delinquent.” There is, of course, no reason why this should not continue. It is disconcerting, however, that this term has come to involve only slightly less stigma than the term “criminal” applied to adults.  It is also emphasized that in practically all jurisdictions, statutes provide that an adjudication of the child as a delinquent shall not operate as a civil disability or disqualify him for civil service appointment.  There is no reason why the application of due process requirements should interfere with such provisions.

Beyond this, it is frequently said that juveniles are protected by the process from disclosure of their deviational behavior. As the Supreme Court of Arizona phrased it in the present case, the summary procedures of Juvenile Courts are sometimes defended by a statement that it is the law’s policy “to hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public and bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past.” This claim of secrecy, however, is more rhetoric than reality. Disclosure of court records is discretionary with the judge in most jurisdictions. Statutory restrictions almost invariably apply only to the court records, and even as to those the evidence is that many courts routinely furnish information to the FBI and the military, and on request to government agencies and even to private employers.

Of more importance are police records.  In most States, the police keep a complete file of juvenile “police contacts” and have complete discretion as to disclosure of juvenile records.  Police departments receive requests for information from the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies, the Armed Forces, and social service agencies, and most of them generally comply. Private employers word their application forms to produce information concerning juvenile arrests and court proceedings, and in some jurisdictions information concerning juvenile police contacts is furnished private employers as well as government agencies.

In any event, there is no reason why, consistently with due process, a State cannot continue, if it deems it appropriate, to provide and to improve provision for the confidentiality of records of police contacts and court action relating to juveniles.  It is interesting to note, however, that the Arizona Supreme Court used the confidentiality argument as a justification for the type of notice which is here attacked as inadequate for due process purposes. The parents were given merely general notice that their child was charged with “delinquency.” No facts were specified. The Arizona court held, however, as we shall discuss, that in addition to this general “notice,” the child and his parents must be advised “of the facts involved in the case” no later than the initial hearing by the judge. Obviously, this does not “bury” the word about the child’s transgressions. It merely defers the time of disclosure to a point when it is of limited use to the child or his parents in preparing his defense or explanation.

Further, it is urged that the juvenile benefits from informal proceedings in the court.  The early conception of the  Juvenile Court proceeding was one in which a fatherly judge touched the heart and conscience of the erring youth by talking over his problems, by paternal advice and admonition, and in which, in extreme situations, benevolent and wise institutions of the State provided guidance and help “to save him from a downward career.”  Then, as now, goodwill and compassion were admirably prevalent.  But recent studies have, with surprising unanimity, entered sharp dissent as to the validity of this gentle conception. They suggest that the appearance as well as the actuality of fairness, impartiality and orderliness—in short, the essentials of due process—may be a more impressive and more therapeutic attitude so far as the juvenile is concerned. For example, in a recent study, the sociologists Wheeler and Cottrell observe that when the procedural laxness of the “parens patriae” attitude is followed by stern disciplining, the contrast may have an adverse effect upon the child, who feels that he has been deceived or enticed.

They conclude as follows: “Unless appropriate due process of law is followed, even the juvenile who has violated the law may not feel that he is being fairly treated and may therefore resist the rehabilitative efforts of court personnel.”  Of course, it is not suggested that juvenile court judges should fail appropriately to take account, in their demeanor and conduct, of the emotional and psychological attitude of the juveniles with whom they are confronted.  While due process requirements will, in some instances, introduce a degree of order and regularity to Juvenile Court proceedings to determine delinquency, and in contested cases will introduce some elements of the adversary system, nothing will require that the conception of the kindly juvenile judge be replaced by its opposite, nor do we here rule upon the question whether ordinary due process requirements must be observed with respect to hearings to determine the disposition of the delinquent child.

Ultimately, however, we confront the reality of that portion of the Juvenile Court process with which we deal in this case. A boy is charged with misconduct. The boy is committed to an institution where he may be restrained of liberty for years. It is of no constitutional consequence—and of limited practical meaning—that the institution to which he is committed is called an Industrial School.  The fact of the matter is that, however euphemistic the title, a “receiving home” or an “industrial school” for juveniles is an institution of confinement in which the child is incarcerated for a greater or lesser time. His world becomes “a building with whitewashed walls, regimented routine and institutional hours . . . .”  Instead of mother and father and sisters and brothers and friends and classmates, his world is peopled by guards, custodians, state employees, and “delinquents” confined with him for anything from waywardness to rape and homicide.

In view of this, it would be extraordinary if our Constitution did not require the procedural regularity and the exercise of care implied in the phrase “due process.”  Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court. The traditional ideas of Juvenile Court procedure, indeed, contemplated that time would be available and care would be used to establish precisely what the juvenile did and why he did it—was it a prank of adolescence or a brutal act threatening serious consequences to himself or society unless corrected?  Under traditional notions, one would assume that in a case like that of Gerald Gault, where the juvenile appears to have a home, a working mother and father, and an older brother, the Juvenile Judge would have made a careful inquiry and judgment as to the possibility that the boy could be disciplined and dealt with at home, despite his previous transgressions.

Indeed, so far as appears in the record before us, except for some conversation with Gerald about his school work and his “wanting to go to . . . Grand Canyon with his father,” the points to which the judge directed his attention were little different from those that would be involved in determining any charge of violation of a penal statute.  The essential difference between Gerald’s case and a normal criminal case is that safeguards available to adults were discarded in Gerald’s case.  The summary procedure as well as the long commitment was possible because Gerald was 15 years of age instead of over 18.

If Gerald had been over 18, he would not have been subject to Juvenile Court proceedings.  For the particular offense immediately involved, the maximum punishment would have been a fine of $ 5 to $ 50, or imprisonment in jail for not more than two months.  Instead, he was committed to custody for a maximum of six years. If he had been over 18 and had committed an offense to which such a sentence might apply, he would have been entitled to substantial rights under the Constitution of the United States as well as under Arizona’s laws and constitution. The United States Constitution would guarantee him rights and protections with respect to arrest, search and seizure, and pretrial interrogation. It would assure him of specific notice of the charges and adequate time to decide his course of action and to prepare his defense.

He would be entitled to clear advice that he could be represented by counsel, and, at least if a felony were involved, the State would be required to provide counsel if his parents were unable to afford it. If the court acted on the basis of his confession, careful procedures would be required to assure its voluntariness. If the case went to trial, confrontation and opportunity for cross-examination would be guaranteed.  So wide a gulf between the State’s treatment of the adult and of the child requires a bridge sturdier than mere verbiage, and reasons more persuasive than cliché can provide.  As Wheeler and Cottrell have put it, “The rhetoric of the juvenile court movement has developed without any necessarily close correspondence to the realities of court and institutional routines.”

In Kent v. United States, we stated that the Juvenile Court Judge’s exercise of the power of the state as parens patriae was not unlimited.  We said that “the admonition to function in a ‘parental’ relationship is not an invitation to procedural arbitrariness.” With respect to the waiver by the Juvenile Court to the adult court of jurisdiction over an offense committed by a youth, we said that “there is no place in our system of law for reaching a result of such tremendous consequences without ceremony—without hearing, without effective assistance of counsel, without a statement of reasons.” We announced with respect to such waiver proceedings that while “We do not mean . . . to indicate that the hearing to be held must conform with all of the requirements of a criminal trial or even of the usual administrative hearing; but we do hold that the hearing must measure up to the essentials of due process and fair treatment.”  We reiterate this view, here in connection with a juvenile court adjudication of “delinquency,” as a requirement which is part of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of our Constitution.

We now turn to the specific issues which are presented to us in the present case.



Appellants allege that the Arizona Juvenile Code is unconstitutional or alternatively that the proceedings before the Juvenile Court were constitutionally defective because of failure to provide adequate notice of the hearings. No notice was given to Gerald’s parents when he was taken into custody on Monday, June 8. On that night, when Mrs. Gault went to the Detention Home, she was orally informed that there would be a hearing the next afternoon and was told the reason why Gerald was in custody. The only written notice Gerald’s parents received at any time was a note on plain paper from Officer Flagg delivered on Thursday or Friday, June 11 or 12, to the effect that the judge had set Monday, June 15, “for further Hearings on Gerald’s delinquency.”

A “petition” was filed with the court on June 9 by Officer Flagg, reciting only that he was informed and believed that “said minor is a delinquent minor and that it is necessary that some order be made by the Honorable Court for said minor’s welfare.”  The applicable Arizona statute provides for a petition to be filed in Juvenile Court, alleging in general terms that the child is “neglected, dependent, or delinquent.”  The statute explicitly states that such a general allegation is sufficient, “without alleging the facts.”  There is no requirement that the petition be served and it was not served upon, given to, or shown to Gerald or his parents.

The Supreme Court of Arizona rejected appellants’ claim that due process was denied because of inadequate notice. It stated that “Mrs. Gault knew the exact nature of the charge against Gerald from the day he was taken to the detention home.” The court also pointed out that the Gaults appeared at the two hearings “without objection.” The court held that because “the policy of the juvenile law is to hide youthful errors from the full gaze of the public and bury them in the graveyard of the forgotten past,” advance notice of the specific charges or basis for taking the juvenile into custody and for the hearing is not necessary. It held that the appropriate rule is that “the infant and his parent or guardian will receive a petition only reciting a conclusion of delinquency. But no later than the initial hearing by the judge, they must be advised of the facts involved in the case.  If the charges are denied, they must be given a reasonable period of time to prepare.”

We cannot agree with the court’s conclusion that adequate notice was given in this case. Notice, to comply with due process requirements, must be given sufficiently in advance of scheduled court proceedings so that reasonable opportunity to prepare will be afforded, and it must “set forth the alleged misconduct with particularity.” It is obvious, as we have discussed above, that no purpose of shielding the child from the public stigma of knowledge of his having been taken into custody and scheduled for hearing is served by the procedure approved by the court below. The “initial hearing” in the present case was a hearing on the merits.

Notice at that time is not timely; and even if there were a conceivable purpose served by the deferral proposed by the court below, it would have to yield to the requirements that the child and his parents or guardian be notified, in writing, of the specific charge or factual allegations to be considered at the hearing, and that such written notice be given at the earliest practicable time, and in any event sufficiently in advance of the hearing to permit preparation. Due process of law requires notice of the sort we have described—that is, notice which would be deemed constitutionally adequate in a civil or criminal proceeding.  It does not allow a hearing to be held in which a youth’s freedom and his parents’ right to his custody are at stake without giving them timely notice, in advance of the hearing, of the specific issues that they must meet.  Nor, in the circumstances of this case, can it reasonably be said that the requirement of notice was waived.



Appellants charge that the Juvenile Court proceedings were fatally defective because the court did not advise Gerald or his parents of their right to counsel, and proceeded with the hearing, the adjudication of delinquency and the order of commitment in the absence of counsel for the child and his parents or an express waiver of the right thereto. The Supreme Court of Arizona pointed out that “there is disagreement [among the various jurisdictions] as to whether the court must advise the infant that he has a right to counsel.”  It noted its own decision in Arizona State Dept. of Public Welfare v. Barlow (1956), to the effect “that the parents of an infant in a juvenile proceeding cannot be denied representation by counsel of their choosing.”  It referred to a provision of the Juvenile Code which it characterized as requiring “that the probation officer shall look after the interests of neglected, delinquent and dependent children,” including representing their interests in court.  The court argued that “The parent and the probation officer may be relied upon to protect the infant’s interests.”

Accordingly, it rejected the proposition that “due process requires that an infant have a right to counsel.”  It said that juvenile courts have the discretion, but not the duty, to allow such representation; it referred specifically to the situation in which the Juvenile Court discerns conflict between the child and his parents as an instance in which this discretion might be exercised. We do not agree.  Probation officers, in the Arizona scheme, are also arresting officers.  They initiate proceedings and file petitions which they verify, as here, alleging the delinquency of the child; and they testify, as here, against the child. And here the probation officer was also superintendent of the Detention Home. The probation officer cannot act as counsel for the child. His role in the adjudicatory hearing, by statute and in fact, is as arresting officer and witness against the child. Nor can the judge represent the child. There is no material difference in this respect between adult and juvenile proceedings of the sort here involved. In adult proceedings, this contention has been foreclosed by decisions of this Court.

A proceeding where the issue is whether the child will be found to be “delinquent” and subjected to the loss of his liberty for years is comparable in seriousness to a felony prosecution. The juvenile needs the assistance of counsel to cope with problems of law, to make skilled inquiry into the facts, to insist upon regularity of the proceedings, and to ascertain whether he has a defense and to prepare and submit it.  The child “requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him.”  Just as in Kent v. United States, we indicated our agreement with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the assistance of counsel is essential for purposes of waiver proceedings, so we hold now that it is equally essential for the determination of delinquency, carrying with it the awesome prospect of incarceration in a state institution until the juvenile reaches the age of 21.

During the last decade, court decisions, experts, and legislatures have demonstrated increasing recognition of this view.  In at least one-third of the States, statutes now provide for the right of representation by retained counsel in juvenile delinquency proceedings, notice of the right, or assignment of counsel, or a combination of these.  In other States, court rules have similar provisions.

The President’s Crime Commission has recently recommended that in order to assure “procedural justice for the child,” it is necessary that “Counsel . . . be appointed as a matter of course wherever coercive action is a possibility, without requiring any affirmative choice by child or parent.”  As stated by the authoritative “Standards for Juvenile and Family Courts,” published by the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare:

“As a component part of a fair hearing required by due process guaranteed under the 14th amendment, notice of the right to counsel should be required at all hearings and counsel provided upon request when the family is financially unable to employ counsel.”

This statement was “reviewed” by the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges at its 1965 Convention and they “found no fault” with it.

The New York Family Court Act contains the following statement:

“This act declares that minors have a right to the assistance of counsel of their own choosing or of law guardians in neglect proceedings under article three and in proceedings to determine juvenile delinquency and whether a person is in need of supervision under article seven.  This declaration is based on a finding that counsel is often indispensable to a practical realization of due process of law and may be helpful in making reasoned determinations of fact and proper orders of disposition.”

The Act provides that “At the commencement of any hearing” under the delinquency article of the statute, the juvenile and his parent shall be advised of the juvenile’s “right to be represented by counsel chosen by him or his parent . . . or by a law guardian assigned by the court . . . .”

The California Act (1961) also requires appointment of counsel.

We conclude that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that in respect of proceedings to determine delinquency which may result in commitment to an institution in which the juvenile’s freedom is curtailed, the child and his parents must be notified of the child’s right to be represented by counsel retained by them, or if they are unable to afford counsel, that counsel will be appointed to represent the child.

At the habeas corpus proceeding, Mrs. Gault testified that she knew that she could have appeared with counsel at the juvenile hearing. This knowledge is not a waiver of the right to counsel which she and her juvenile son had, as we have defined it. They had a right expressly to be advised that they might retain counsel and to be confronted with the need for specific consideration of whether they did or did not choose to waive the right. If they were unable to afford to employ counsel, they were entitled in view of the seriousness of the charge and the potential commitment, to appointed counsel, unless they chose waiver. Mrs. Gault’s knowledge that she could employ counsel was not an “intentional relinquishment or abandonment” of a fully known right.



Appellants urge that the writ of habeas corpus should have been granted because of the denial of the rights of confrontation and cross-examination in the Juvenile Court hearings, and because the privilege against self-incrimination was not observed. The Juvenile Court Judge testified at the habeas corpus hearing that he had proceeded on the basis of Gerald’s admissions at the two hearings. Appellants attack this on the ground that the admissions were obtained in disregard of the privilege against self-incrimination. If the confession is disregarded, appellants argue that the delinquency conclusion, since it was fundamentally based on a finding that Gerald had made lewd remarks during the phone call to Mrs. Cook, is fatally defective for failure to accord the rights of confrontation and cross-examination which the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the  Federal Constitution guarantees in state proceedings generally.

Our first question, then, is whether Gerald’s admission was improperly obtained and relied on as the basis of decision, in conflict with the Federal Constitution.  For this purpose, it is necessary briefly to recall the relevant facts.

Mrs. Cook, the complainant, and the recipient of the alleged telephone call, was not called as a witness.  Gerald’s mother asked the Juvenile Court Judge why Mrs. Cook was not present and the judge replied that “she didn’t have to be present.” So far as appears, Mrs. Cook was spoken to only once, by Officer Flagg, and this was by telephone. The judge did not speak with her on any occasion. Gerald had been questioned by the probation officer after having been taken into custody. The exact circumstances of this questioning do not appear but any admissions Gerald may have made at this time do not appear in the record. Gerald was also questioned by the Juvenile Court Judge at each of the two hearings.  The judge testified in the habeas corpus proceeding that Gerald admitted making “some of the lewd statements . . . [but not] any of the more serious lewd statements.”  There was conflict and uncertainty among the witnesses at the habeas corpus proceeding—the Juvenile Court Judge, Mr. and Mrs. Gault, and the probation officer— as to what Gerald did or did not admit.

We shall assume that Gerald made admissions of the sort described by the Juvenile Court Judge, as quoted above.  Neither Gerald nor his parents were advised that he did not have to testify or make a statement, or that an incriminating statement might result in his commitment as a “delinquent.”

The Arizona Supreme Court rejected appellants’ contention that Gerald had a right to be advised that he need not incriminate himself.  It said: “We think the necessary flexibility for individualized treatment will be enhanced by a rule which does not require the judge to advise the infant of a privilege against self-incrimination.”

In reviewing this conclusion of Arizona’s Supreme Court, we emphasize again that we are here concerned only with a proceeding to determine whether a minor is a “delinquent” and which may result in commitment to a state institution.  Specifically, the question is whether, in such a proceeding, an admission by the juvenile may be used against him in the absence of clear and unequivocal evidence that the admission was made with knowledge that he was not obliged to speak and would not be penalized for remaining silent. In light of Miranda v. Arizona (1966), we must also consider whether, if the privilege against self-incrimination is available, it can effectively be waived unless counsel is present or the right to counsel has been waived.

It has long been recognized that the eliciting and use of confessions or admissions require careful scrutiny.  Dean Wigmore states:

“The ground of distrust of confessions made in certain situations is, in a rough and indefinite way, judicial experience.  There has been no careful collection of statistics of untrue confessions, nor has any great number of instances been even loosely reported . . . but enough have been verified to fortify the conclusion, based on ordinary observation of human conduct, that under certain stresses a person, especially one of defective mentality or peculiar  temperament, may falsely acknowledge guilt. This possibility arises wherever the innocent person is placed in such a situation that the untrue acknowledgment of guilt is at the time the more promising of two alternatives between which he is obliged to choose; that is, he chooses any risk that may be in falsely acknowledging guilt, in preference to some worse alternative associated with silence.

. . . .

“The principle, then, upon which a confession may be excluded is that it is, under certain conditions, testimonially untrustworthy . . . . The essential feature is that the principle of exclusion is a testimonial one, analogous to the other principles which exclude narrations as untrustworthy . . . .”

This Court has emphasized that admissions and confessions of juveniles require special caution.  In Haley v. Ohio, where this Court reversed the conviction of a 15-year-old boy for murder, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS said:

“What transpired would make us pause for careful inquiry if a mature man were involved. And when, as here, a mere child— an easy victim of the law—is before us, special care in scrutinizing the record must be used. Age 15 is a tender and difficult age for a boy of any race. He cannot be judged by the more exacting standards of maturity. That which would leave a man cold and unimpressed can overawe and overwhelm a lad in his early teens. This is the period of great instability which the crisis of adolescence produces. A 15-year-old lad, questioned through the dead of night by relays of police, is a ready victim of the inquisition. Mature men possibly might stand the ordeal from midnight to 5 a. m. But we cannot believe that a lad of tender years is a match for the police in such a contest. He needs counsel and support if he is not to become the victim first of fear, then of panic. He needs someone on whom to lean lest the overpowering presence of the law, as he knows it, crush him. No friend stood at the side of this 15-year-old boy as the police, working in relays, questioned him hour after hour, from midnight until dawn. No lawyer stood guard to make sure that the police went so far and no farther, to see to it that they stopped short of the point where he became the victim of coercion. No counsel or friend was called during the critical hours of questioning.”

In Haley, as we have discussed, the boy was convicted in an adult court, and not a juvenile court.  In notable decisions, the New York Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of New Jersey have recently considered decisions of Juvenile Courts in which boys have been adjudged “delinquent” on the basis of confessions obtained in circumstances comparable to those in Haley.  In both instances, the State contended before its highest tribunal that constitutional requirements governing inculpatory statements applicable in adult courts do not apply to juvenile proceedings.  In each case, the State’s contention was rejected, and the juvenile court’s determination of delinquency was set aside on the grounds of inadmissibility of the confession.

The privilege against self-incrimination is, of course, related to the question of the safeguards necessary to assure that admissions or confessions are reasonably trustworthy, that they are not the mere fruits of fear or coercion, but are reliable expressions of the truth.  The roots of the privilege are, however, far deeper. They tap the basic stream of religious and political principle because the privilege reflects the limits of the individual’s attornment to the state and—in a philosophical sense—insists upon the equality of the individual and the state.  In other words, the privilege has a broader and deeper thrust than the rule which prevents the use of confessions which are the product of coercion because coercion is thought to carry with it the danger of unreliability. One of its purposes is to prevent the state, whether by force or by psychological domination, from overcoming the mind and will of the person under investigation and depriving him of the freedom to decide whether to assist the state in securing his conviction.

It would indeed be surprising if the privilege against self-incrimination were available to hardened criminals but not to children. The language of the Fifth Amendment, applicable to the States by operation of the Fourteenth Amendment, is unequivocal and without exception. And the scope of the privilege is comprehensive. As MR. JUSTICE WHITE, concurring, stated in Murphy v. Waterfront Commission (1964):

“The privilege can be claimed in any proceeding, be it criminal or civil, administrative or judicial, investigatory or adjudicatory . . . it protects any disclosures which the witness may reasonably apprehend could be used in a criminal prosecution or which could lead to other evidence that might be so used.”

With respect to juveniles, both common observation and expert opinion emphasize that the “distrust of confessions made in certain situations” … is imperative in the case of children from an early age through adolescence.  In New York, for example, the recently enacted Family Court Act provides that the juvenile and his parents must be advised at the start of the hearing of his right to remain silent. The New York statute also provides that the police must attempt to communicate with the juvenile’s parents before questioning him, and that absent “special circumstances” a confession may not be obtained from a child prior to notifying his parents or relatives and releasing the child either to them or to the Family Court.  ….

The authoritative “Standards for Juvenile and Family Courts” concludes that, “Whether or not transfer to the criminal court is a possibility, certain procedures should always be followed.  Before being interviewed [by the police], the child and his parents should be informed of his right to have legal counsel present and to refuse to answer questions or be fingerprinted if he should so decide.”

Against the application to juveniles of the right to silence, it is argued that juvenile proceedings are “civil” and not “criminal,” and therefore the privilege should not apply.  It is true that the statement of the privilege in the Fifth Amendment, which is applicable to the States by reason of the Fourteenth Amendment, is that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” However, it is also clear that the availability of the privilege does not turn upon the type of proceeding in which its protection is invoked, but upon the nature of the statement or admission and the exposure which it invites. The privilege may, for example, be claimed in a civil or administrative proceeding, if the statement is or may be inculpatory.

It would be entirely unrealistic to carve out of the Fifth Amendment all statements by juveniles on the ground that these cannot lead to “criminal” involvement.  In the first place, juvenile proceedings to determine “delinquency,” which may lead to commitment to a state institution, must be regarded as “criminal” for purposes of the privilege against self-incrimination. To hold otherwise would be to disregard substance because of the feeble enticement of the “civil” label-of-convenience, which has been attached to juvenile proceedings.  Indeed, in over half of the States, there is not even assurance that the juvenile will be kept in separate institutions, apart from adult “criminals.”  In those States, juveniles may be placed in or transferred to adult penal institutions after having been found “delinquent” by a juvenile court.  For this purpose, at least, commitment is a deprivation of liberty. It is incarceration against one’s will, whether it is called “criminal” or “civil.”  And our Constitution guarantees that no person shall be “compelled” to be a witness against himself when he is threatened with deprivation of his liberty—a command which this Court has broadly applied and generously implemented in accordance with the teaching of the history of the privilege and its great office in mankind’s battle for freedom.

In addition, apart from the equivalence for this purpose of exposure to commitment as a juvenile delinquent and exposure to imprisonment as an adult offender, the fact of the matter is that there is little or no assurance in Arizona, as in most if not all of the States, that a juvenile apprehended and interrogated by the police or even by the Juvenile Court itself will remain outside of the reach of adult courts as a consequence of the offense for which he has been taken into custody. In Arizona, as in other States, provision is made for Juvenile Courts to relinquish or waive jurisdiction to the ordinary criminal courts.  In the present case, when Gerald Gault was interrogated concerning violation of a section of the Arizona Criminal Code, it could not be certain that the Juvenile Court Judge would decide to “suspend” criminal prosecution in court for adults by proceeding to an adjudication in Juvenile Court.

It is also urged, as the Supreme Court of Arizona here asserted, that the juvenile and presumably his parents should not be advised of the juvenile’s right to silence because confession is good for the child as the commencement of the assumed therapy of the juvenile court process, and he should be encouraged to assume an attitude of trust and confidence toward the officials of the juvenile process. This proposition has been subjected to widespread challenge on the basis of current reappraisals of the rhetoric and realities of the handling of juvenile offenders.

In fact, evidence is accumulating that confessions by juveniles do not aid in “individualized treatment,” as the court below put it, and that compelling the child to answer questions, without warning or advice as to his right to remain silent, does not serve this or any other good purpose. In light of the observations of Wheeler and Cottrell, and others, it seems probable that where children are induced to confess by “paternal” urgings on the part of officials and the confession is then followed by disciplinary action, the child’s reaction is likely to be hostile and adverse—the child may well feel that he has been led or tricked into confession and that despite his confession, he is being punished.

Further, authoritative opinion has cast formidable doubt upon the reliability and trustworthiness of “confessions” by children.  This Court’s observations in Haley v. Ohioare set forth above.  The recent decision of the New York Court of Appeals referred to above, In the Matters of Gregory W. and Gerald S., deals with a dramatic and, it is to be hoped, extreme example.  Two 12-year-old Negro boys were taken into custody for the brutal assault and rape of two aged domestics, one of whom died as the result of the attack.  One of the boys was schizophrenic and had been locked in the security ward of a mental institution at the time of the attacks. By a process that may best be described as bizarre, his confession was obtained by the police. A psychiatrist testified that the boy would admit “whatever he thought was expected so that he could get out of the immediate situation.” The other 12-year-old also “confessed.” Both confessions were in specific detail, albeit they contained various inconsistencies. The Court of Appeals, in an opinion by Keating, J., concluded that the confessions were products of the will of the police instead of the boys. The confessions were therefore held involuntary and the order of the Appellate Division affirming the order of the Family Court adjudging the defendants to be juvenile delinquents was reversed.

A similar and equally instructive case has recently been decided by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  The body of a 10-year-old girl was found.  She had been strangled. Neighborhood boys who knew the girl were questioned.  The two appellants, aged 13 and 15, confessed to the police, with vivid detail and some inconsistencies.  At the Juvenile Court hearing, both denied any complicity in the killing. They testified that their confessions were the product of fear and fatigue due to extensive police grilling. The Juvenile Court Judge found that the confessions were voluntary and admissible. On appeal, in an extensive opinion by Proctor, J., the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed. It rejected the State’s argument that the constitutional safeguard of voluntariness governing the use of confessions does not apply in proceedings before the Juvenile Court. It pointed out that under New Jersey court rules, juveniles under the age of 16 accused of committing a homicide are tried in a proceeding which “has all of the appurtenances of a criminal trial,” including participation by the county prosecutor, and requirements that the juvenile be provided with counsel, that a stenographic record be made, etc.

It also pointed out that under New Jersey law, the confinement of the boys after reaching age 21 could be extended until they had served the maximum sentence which could have been imposed on an adult for such a homicide, here found to be second-degree murder carrying up to 30 years’ imprisonment. The court concluded that the confessions were involuntary, stressing that the boys, contrary to statute, were placed in the police station and there interrogated; that the parents of both boys were not allowed to see them while they were being interrogated; that inconsistencies appeared among the various statements of the boys and with the objective evidence of the crime; and that there were protracted periods of questioning.  The court noted the State’s contention that both boys were advised of their constitutional rights before they made their statements, but it held that this should not be given “significant weight in our determination of voluntariness.”  Accordingly, the judgment of the Juvenile Court was reversed.

In a recent case before the Juvenile Court of the District of Columbia, Judge Ketcham rejected the proffer of evidence as to oral statements made at police headquarters by four juveniles who had been taken into custody for alleged involvement in an assault and attempted robbery. The court explicitly stated that it did not rest its decision on a showing that the statements were involuntary, but because they were untrustworthy.  Judge Ketcham said:

“Simply stated, the Court’s decision in this case rests upon the considered opinion—after nearly four busy years on the Juvenile Court bench during which the testimony of thousands of such juveniles has been heard—that the statements of adolescents under 18 years of age who are arrested and charged with violations of law are frequently untrustworthy and often distort the truth.”

We conclude that the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination is applicable in the case of juveniles as it is with respect to adults.  We appreciate that special problems may arise with respect to waiver of the privilege by or on behalf of children, and that there may well be some differences in technique—but not in principle—depending upon the age of the child and the presence and competence of parents. The participation of counsel will, of course, assist the police, Juvenile Courts and appellate tribunals in administering the privilege. If counsel was not present for some permissible reason when an admission was obtained, the greatest care must be taken to assure that the admission was voluntary, in the sense not only that it was not coerced or suggested, but also that it was not the product of ignorance of rights or of adolescent fantasy, fright or despair.

The “confession” of Gerald Gault was first obtained by Officer Flagg, out of the presence of Gerald’s parents, without counsel and without advising him of his right to silence, as far as appears.  The judgment of the Juvenile Court was stated by the judge to be based on Gerald’s admissions in court. Neither “admission” was reduced to writing, and, to say the least, the process by which the “admissions” were obtained and received must be characterized as lacking the certainty and order which are required of proceedings of such formidable consequences.  Apart from the “admissions,” there was nothing upon which a judgment or finding might be based.

There was no sworn testimony. Mrs. Cook, the complainant, was not present. The Arizona Supreme Court held that “sworn testimony must be required of all witnesses including police officers, probation officers and others who are part of or officially related to the juvenile court structure.” We hold that this is not enough. No reason is suggested or appears for a different rule in respect of sworn testimony in juvenile courts than in adult tribunals. Absent a valid confession adequate to support the determination of the Juvenile Court, confrontation and sworn testimony by witnesses available for cross-examination were essential for a finding of “delinquency” and an order committing Gerald to a state institution for a maximum of six years.

The recommendations in the Children’s Bureau’s “Standards for Juvenile and Family Courts” are in general accord with our conclusions. They state that testimony should be under oath and that only competent, material and relevant evidence under rules applicable to civil cases should be admitted in evidence.

As we said in Kent v. United States (1966), with respect to waiver proceedings, “there is no place in our system of law for reaching a result of such tremendous consequences without ceremony . . . .”  We now hold that, absent a valid confession, a determination of delinquency and an order of commitment to a state institution cannot be sustained in the absence of sworn testimony subjected to the opportunity for cross-examination in accordance with our law and constitutional requirements.



Appellants urge that the Arizona statute is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause because, as construed by its Supreme Court, “there is no right of appeal from a juvenile court order . . . .” The court held that there is no right to a transcript because there is no right to appeal and because the proceedings are confidential and any record must be destroyed after a prescribed period of time.  Whether a transcript or other recording is made, it held, is a matter for the discretion of the juvenile court.

This Court has not held that a State is required by the Federal Constitution “to provide appellate courts or a right to appellate review at all.” In view of the fact that we must reverse the Supreme Court of Arizona’s affirmance of the dismissal of the writ of habeas corpus for other reasons, we need not rule on this question in the present case or upon the failure to provide a transcript or recording of the hearings—or, indeed, the failure of the Juvenile Judge to state the grounds for his conclusion.  In the context of a decision of the juvenile court waiving jurisdiction to the adult court, which by local law, was permissible: “. . . it is incumbent upon the Juvenile Court to accompany its waiver order with a statement of the reasons or considerations therefor.”  As the present case illustrates, the consequences of failure to provide an appeal, to record the proceedings, or to make findings or state the grounds for the juvenile court’s conclusion may be to throw a burden upon the machinery for habeas corpus, to saddle the reviewing process with the burden of attempting to reconstruct a record, and to impose upon the Juvenile Judge the unseemly duty of testifying under cross-examination as to the events that transpired in the hearings before him.

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona is reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

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Last Modified: 04/30/2021

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