Am I entitled to have an attorney when I go to juvenile court?

Prior to 1967, juvenile offenders did not have a constitutional right to have an attorney represent them at trial. In that year, however, the United States Supreme Court extended this right as well as others to juvenile defendants under the due process clause in its landmark decision known as In re Gault.

Juvenile Case: In re Gault

On June 8, 1964, fifteen year-old Gerald Gault was arrested by an Arizona county sheriff for making lewd telephone calls and placed into custody at a juvenile detention facility. The next morning he was taken before a judge who, after hearing from Gault, at the end of the hearing said "he would think about it."  Several days later Gault was released from the detention center without explanation, at which time his mother received the first and only formal notice of a hearing being scheduled in her son's case. At the second hearing, the judge ruled that Gault was a delinquent for making obscene phone calls and ordered that he be confined to an Industrial School until he reached the age of 21. Gault's accuser was not present at either hearing nor did he have an attorney represent him.

Through the habeas corpus and appeal process, Gault's case eventually found its way to the United States Supreme Court. In an 8 to 1 decision, the Court held that Gault's conviction was a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, in that he was denied the right to counsel, had not been notified of the charges against him, had not been notified of his right against self-incrimination and did not have the opportunity to confront or cross-examine his accuser. For these reasons, the conviction was overturned and Gault was released after three years in custody. Ironically, had Gault been tried as an adult, at the most, he would have received up to 2 months in prison and a fine of $50.

Since this decision was handed down, every juvenile across the nation has the right to have an attorney represent him or her in court. If you are under age and are in legal trouble, discuss your situation with an attorney who specializes in juvenile law.