In the 1967 case In re Gault, the U.S. Supreme Court revolutionized juvenile criminal proceedings by holding that children were constitutionally entitled to legal counsel and the privilege against self-incrimination. In contrast to Miranda v. Arizona, decided the previous year, the Court’s reasoning was not centered on preventing involuntary confessions. Instead, the Court was concerned that information obtained from juveniles was untrustworthy—indeed, some children might confess to crimes they did not actually commit. Improved procedural protections were necessary to guarantee the accuracy of the factfinding process.
Subsequent cases have moved away from this principle, and the Court has never held that children in criminal proceedings are entitled to greater constitutional procedural protections than adults. This retreat from Gault does not easily reconcile with increased research showing that children are fundamentally different from adults in comprehending and exercising their rights. Furthermore, advances in DNA analysis and other investigatory techniques have shown that false confessions are a very real phenomenon of particular danger to juveniles vulnerable to the coercive environment of an interrogation room.
This Article discusses the importance of a return to Gault’s principles: providing juveniles with enhanced due process protections to ensure the accuracy of legal proceedings and to prevent wrongful convictions based on false confessions. Two proposals are discussed: a non-waivable right to legal counsel and mandated electronic recording of juvenile interrogations.