In handing down its decision in In Re Gault, the Supreme Court extended to youths accused of delinquent acts certain constitutional rights heretofore reserved for adults in criminal proceedings, i.e., the right against self-incrimination and the rights to timely notice of charges, counsel and confrontation of witnesses. In arriving at its far-reaching decision, the Court confirmed what many critics of the juvenile court movement had been saying for years: that this nation's juvenile courts are beset with serious problems in handling the task for which they were specifically created- the "non-criminal" adjudication and treatment of delinquent children.
The Gault opinion reveals that the majority decision was apparently founded as much on social science "fact" as it was on more fundamental principles of legal reasoning. Indeed, it is apparent that the Court was in somewhat of a dilemma in trying to prove that juvenile courts were, in fact, not fulfilling the promise of their founders. Paramount among the Court's considerations in this regard were the observations: l) that juvenile crime has increased, not decreased, since the establishment of the juvenile justice system; 2) that a "delinquency" label is inherently stigmatizing; 3) that the manner in which a youth perceives the legal system has profound effects on his future development as an adult member of society and; 4) that institutionalization, even for treatment purposes, is nonetheless involuntary deprivation of liberty.
A Social Scientist's View of Gault and a Plea for the Experimenting Society*,
Yale Rev. L. & Soc. Action
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yrlsa/vol1/iss2/7