“Where is justice?” asked Gerald Gault, as he ended his interview during a symposium on juvenile justice at the LSU Law Center on Friday, March 19. Gault was the petitioner in the 1967 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case In Re Gault that revolutionized the field of juvenile law. In its ruling in the Gault case, the Court extended the right to counsel and other due process protections to juveniles during delinquency proceedings. Gault, at age 15, was sentenced to state custody until his 21st birthday following proceedings that denied him access to an attorney or application of rules of evidence. He spoke, along with numerous state and nationally recognized experts, to a standing room only audience at the day-long symposium.
The symposium, titled The Backdoor of the Juvenile Courts: Waivers and the Impact of Criminalization, was sponsored by the LSU Law Center, the Louisiana Law Review, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The George W. & Jean H. Pugh Institute for Justice. The program focused on the issue of juvenile transfers to adult criminal courts. More than 135 people attended.
Featured were several nationally prominent speakers in the field of juvenile law. Frank Zimring, a law professor at U.C. Berkeley and co-author and co-editor of the book The Changing Borders of Juvenile Justice: Transfer of Adolescents to the Criminal Courts, gave a presentation exploring the political dynamics behind the national trend which led to the development of harsher transfer laws across the country during the previous two decades. Mark Soler, Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy in Washington, D.C., spoke about the need for better data collection around the issue of juvenile transfer. Soler promoted sounder policy and decision-making on the topic as a means to reduce the disproportionate use of transfer of minority youth.
Professor Elizabeth Scott of Columbia Law School presented an analysis of how states can create safeguards that protect juveniles while also protecting public safety. In addition, Neelum Arya, Director of Research and Policy at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington D.C., outlined legislative strategies for policy advocates seeking to reform transfer laws in their own jurisdictions.
In addition to the scholarly presentations, the symposium opened with a video created by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana titled Faces of Transfer. The video documented the cases of eight individuals from Louisiana, all serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles. Posters telling the stories of the same individuals were also displayed in the lobby of the McKernan Law Auditorium throughout the day.
The symposium closed with a panel discussion moderated by Derwyn Bunton, Chief Public Defender for the Parish of Orleans, who led the discussion with panelists E. Pete Adams, Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association, and State Senator Daniel Martiny, who is sponsoring legislation to eliminate life without the possibility of parole as a sentence for transferred juveniles.
For many, the highlight of the symposium was a rare appearance by juvenile justice icon Gerald Gault for an interview with Patti Puritz, Executive Director of the National Juvenile Defender Center. During the historic interview, Mr. Gault spoke of the profound effects of his experience in the courts and the realization only many years later of the national significance of his case. Mr. Gault encouraged all of those in attendance to continue fighting for justice for the country’s youth and ended his inspiring talk to a standing ovation. Because of his case, youth today have the right to counsel, the right to formal notice of proceedings against them, and the right to a series of due process protections. Mr. Gault, went on to serve in the military for over 21 years, and he now lives in California with his wife, Connie, and his three grandchildren.