Gault

Citation18 L.Ed.2d 527,387 U.S. 1,87 S.Ct. 1428
Decision Date15 May 1967
Docket NumberNo. 116,116
PartiesApplication of Paul L. GAULT and Marjorie Gault, Father and Mother of Gerald Francis Gault, a Minor, Appellants
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Norman Dorsen, New York City, for appellants.

Frank A. Parks, Phoenix, Ariz., for appellee, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Merritt W. Gren, Toledo, Ohio, for Ohio Ass'n of Juvenile Court Judges, as amicus curiae.

Mr. Justice FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

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. 99 Ariz. 181, 407 P.2d 760 (1965). 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.

I.

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 proceed- ings and the subsequent hearing on June 15, derives entirel f rom the testimony of the Juvenile Court Judge,1 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.2 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

'/s/ Flagg' 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.3 But Judge McGhee recalled that 'there was some admission again of some of the lewd statements. Hehe didn't admit any of the more serious lewd statements.'4 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 dis- charged 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 appal 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.5 In substance, he concluded that Gerald came within ARS § 8—201, subsec. 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, subsec. 6(d) which includes in the definition of a 'delinquent child' one who, as the judge phrased it, is 'habitually involved in immoral matters.'6

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 proceed- ings and order relating to Gerald constituted a denial of due process of...

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