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ACLU Disappointed with Supreme Court Ruling on Domestic Violence Orders of Protection (6/27/2005)


Civil Liberties Group Calls on States to Take Lead in Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence

NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed disappointment over a Supreme Court decision finding that the U.S. Constitution does not recognize an entitlement by domestic violence victims to enforcement of their protective orders. As Justice Stevens wrote in the dissent, "the Court gives short shrift to the unique case of [statutes requiring police enforcement] in the domestic violence context."

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Jessica Gonzales in 2000, which charged that the Castle Rock, Colorado police refused to enforce a restraining order against her estranged husband, who kidnapped and then murdered their three young daughters.

"The Supreme Court's ruling makes it clear that state legislatures must take the lead in protecting victims of domestic violence and pass laws that will hold police accountable for taking protection orders seriously," said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief and organized eight other briefs submitted on Gonzales' behalf. "We urge state legislatures to act with due haste to protect women and their families from harm."

In today's ruling, the Supreme Court found that domestic violence victims do not have a federal right to police enforcement of their protective orders. However, the ACLU said that the decision does not change or diminish existing state laws regarding mandatory or presumptive arrest. In fact, Justice Scalia writing for the majority opinion explicitly states that the ruling today "does not mean states are powerless to provide victims with personally enforceable remedies? the people of Colorado are free to craft such a system under state law."

The ACLU pointed to Montana and Tennessee as good examples of how states can create legal mechanisms to protect victims and ensure that police departments are accountable for enforcing the law.

In Montana, the state Supreme Court has recognized that a domestic violence statute encouraging the arrest of an abuser imposes a duty on police officers. Under Montana law, when a domestic violence victim is injured because the police negligently fail to perform that duty, the police officers are liable. In Tennessee, the state Supreme Court has recognized that a protective order creates a special duty for police officers to protect the victim who holds the order and that police officers can be sued when they violate that duty by failing to enforce the order.

"Legislatures and courts should follow the examples of states like Montana and Tennessee and ensure that there are consequences when police arbitrarily fail to follow laws enacted for the protection of victims of domestic violence and their children," said Emily Martin, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

Jessica Gonzales agreed that stronger laws are needed to ensure that police are enforcing orders of protection.

"I am disappointed that the Court has found that Castle Rock cannot be held liable for its failure to enforce my restraining order," said Gonzales. "I will continue to raise awareness around this issue so that my daughters will not have died in vain. We need to put pressure on our elected officials to pass laws that offer real protection to women and their families."

For more information on this case, as well as the nine court briefs submitted on behalf of Gonzales, go to "".

To read a profile article on Jessica Gonzales, go to www.http://aclu.org/womensrights/gen/13212res20050317.html