that no matter how “euphemistic” a title
was given to the juvenile institution Gerald was committed to for six years, this
loss of liberty was significant: “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 ho-micide.”(citations omitted.) 3
And just like that, juvenile court was
constitutionally transformed. Justice Fortas famously held, “Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not
justify a kangaroo court.” 4 Children had
the right to the “guiding hand of counsel at
every step in the proceedings.” 5 Children
were entitled to formal notice explaining
the charges against them. Children would
have the right to require the presence
of live witnesses who could be cross-examined by their lawyers. Children would
not be forced to provide evidence against
themselves through questioning by judges and probation counselors with no procedural protections.
There would be no more Gerald
Gaults — robbed of their youth without
a fair process.
Or would there?
The protections of Gault took time to
implement. Washington codified the protections through the Juvenile Justice Act
of 1977, Chapter 13. 40 RCW, a significant
piece of legislation, which fundamentally
changed juvenile court. More than any other state, Washington brought its juvenile
court in line with adult criminal proceedings: abandoning the label “delinquent”
for “offender,” making juvenile offender
proceedings and records open to the public, emphasizing “accountability” over rehabilitation, and instituting a determinate
sentencing scheme. 6 Still, informality continued to prevail as lawyers grudgingly attempted to adjust to their new roles as zealous advocates for their clients and judges
continued to make decisions based on what
they believed to be in the best interest of
the youth brought before them.
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the right to confront and cross-examine
witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination.
Unfortunately, Gerald spent nearly
three years at the Arizona Industrial
School before the U.S. Supreme Court
granted him relief on May 15, 1967.
The Supreme Court’s decision in In re
Gault was a response to the failed promises of the juvenile court system. The
progressive reformers who brought us
the juvenile court model in the late 19th
century imagined a place where children
were treated less formally because they
were not being punished as adults. The
parens patrie model would provide treatment and rehabilitative services rather
than punishment for children who had
gone astray. Finding guilt or innocence
through an adversarial system was
thought to be counterproductive to the
needs of children. The Gault Court acknowledged that this “peculiar” system
of justice did not live up to its ideals. Citing high recidivism rates and social science research, the Court concluded 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.” 2 The Court emphasized
OF BEING A
BOY DOES NOT
—Justice Abe Fortas