ABA Law Day: For Schools: Lessons 7-9: Juvenile Justice: The Case of Gerry Gault

For Schools

Grades 7-9
Juvenile Justice: The Case of Gerry Gault


As a result of this lesson, students will

  • Learn about the events that led to the case In re Gault.
  • Recognize the importance of In re Gault to juvenile rights and juvenile court proceedings.


  1. Give each student a copy of Handout 1 to read. Then ask students to define the words hearings, charges, testifies, record, testimony, and delinquent as they are used in the text. Help them with any they cannot define.
  2. Ask students, “Who was involved in the case? What happened?” On the board, make two columns with the headings Fair and Unfair. Ask students what they would list in each column. Write some of their responses.
  3. Divide the class into groups of three. Each group appoints a recorder to make a chart like the one on the board. Ask each group to discuss and identify the fair and unfair things that happened to Gerry Gault. Example:

    A juvenile court judge heard his case.
    Mrs. Cook complained.
    Gerry was not held in adult jail.
    The police didn’t call his parents first.
    Mrs. Cook didn’t show up in court.
    The punishment was too harsh.


  4. Have the groups take turns giving their ideas about what was fair or unfair. List all their responses on the board. Discuss why students thought these events were fair or unfair. Ask them, “Do you think the overall result of this case was unfair?” Mark entries in the Unfair column that students think are the most unfair and should be changed.
  5. Point out that Gerry’s parents also thought their son’s case was handled unfairly and that he had been denied his due process rights so they appealed the case. Discuss the terms appeal and due process. Explain that due process means that legal proceedings must be carried out according to established rules and principles in order to be fair. Point out to students that they have already decided that Gerry’s case was unfair. Ask them, “Do you think Gerry received due process of law? Why or why not?
  6. Explain that eventually Gerry’s case went to the Supreme Court. Refer students back to their list of fair and unfair actions. Ask them, “What issue do you think the U.S. Supreme Court had to decide in Gerry’s case?” Explain that the question before the Court was “Were Gerry’s Fifth Amendment due process rights violated?’’
  7. Give each student a copy of Handout 2 to read. Then review the rights now accorded to juveniles based on Gerry’s case, In re Gault. Make sure students understand what each right means.
  8. To check students’ understanding, have them answer these questions: What events led to the case In re Gault? Why did the case go the Supreme Court? What did the Supreme Court decide and why? How did the Supreme Court decision affect juveniles in juvenile court?

Adapted from Save Our Streets: A Positive Choices Curriculum, a program of Street Law, Inc. and The Conflict Resolution Education Network, by permission of the publisher.