not just the law but also would unblock this
young man’s future. However, the obstacles
to normalizing Gerald’s life were not to be
disposed of with a single stroke.
According to the Supreme Court of Arizona, one of the policy principles underlying
juvenile court was “to hide youthful errors
from the full gaze of the public and bury
them in the graveyard of the forgotten
past.” 1 United States Supreme Court Justice
Abe Fortas made short work of this, a rationale often given to justify the informality
and summary procedures used in juvenile
court. Fortas pointed out that the claim that
delinquency records are kept secret “is more
rhetoric than reality,” observing
in his Gault opinion that juvenile
courts routinely furnish information about juvenile court proceedings to law enforcement and the
In August 1968, an Army recruiter in Santa Maria, California,
sent a form to Gila County Juvenile Court to find out whether
Gerald Gault had a juvenile record.
Deputy probation officer Tommie
Rasmussen responded. Although
over a year had passed since Gerald’s parents won their challenge to
Judge Robert E. McGhee’s commitment order, and even though
the US. Supreme Court had said,
“Under our Constitution, the condition of
being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court,”
Rasmussen nevertheless told the recruiter
PETER J. CAHILL is retired from the bench. He was the presiding
judge for Gila County Superior Court.
SARAH EDWARDS is the Development and Communications
Manager for the National Juvenile Defender Center in Washington D.C.
that Gerald had a record for “
Delinquency” and that he had been committed to the Arizona State Industrial
School. As the Army recruiter later explained, because Gerald’s Gila County juvenile court record still showed
an active file and because there was
no record whether his charges had
been dismissed or that he had been
found “not guilty,” Gerald would
not be allowed to enlist.
Once again, just as they had done
back in June 1964, Gerald’s parents asked
their lawyer, Amelia Lewis, for help. She
and New York City American Civil Liberties
Union lawyer Norman Dorsen had taken
Mr. and Mrs. Gault’s case all the way to
Washington. Their efforts had changed juvenile law throughout the country forever—
but nothing at all had changed for Gerald
Mrs. Lewis contacted the Gila County
Juvenile Court. Probation officer Rasmussen
wrote back. He acknowledged that the
United States Supreme Court did remand
Gerald’s parents’ case to the Arizona Supreme Court “for further proceedings.” But
Rasmussen also pointed out, accurately, that
no mandate had ever directed the Gila
County court to take any action.
The mandate issued by the U.S. Supreme
Court had remanded Mr. and Mrs. Gault’s
case back to the Arizona courts, and the Ar-
izona Supreme Court in turn sent the case
back to the superior court. But
the remand was to the superior
court in Phoenix, where the habeas
case got started in August 1964.
The case that went before the
U.S. Supreme Court was not a di-
rect appeal of Gerald’s delinquen-
cy case. At the time, a child in ju-
venile court in Arizona did not
have a right of appeal and Mrs.
Lewis did not represent Gerald.
Instead, she represented his parents. Their case was a collateral
challenge to his commitment to
the Industrial School, a habeas
corpus action. The Arizona Supreme Court had sent the case to
a Maricopa County superior judge
for a hearing.
Because the remand to the habeas trial
court happened years after after Gerald’s
December 1964 release from custody at Ft.
Grant, there was nothing for the Maricopa
court to do, and no further action was taken. Just as Rasmussen told Mrs. Lewis, no
mandate was ever issued to the juvenile
court in Globe, where Gerald’s delinquency
case took place. Thus, its records still disqualified Gerald from enlistment.
Rasmussen suggested that Amelia Lewis
get clarification from the Supreme Court as
to whether Gerald was to have some other
hearing. Regarding Gerald’s juvenile records,
Rasmussen insisted that these records, includ-
Gault, center, with Amelia Lewis.
Gerald Gault, center.
Young people who are
asked about juvenile
adjudications are frequently
turned away from
education, and housing.