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National NOW Times >> Summer/Fall 2005 >> Article

Gonzales Ruling Endangers Women and Children

By Michelle Kline, Communications Intern

In one of its final decisions of the 2004-2005 session, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that police cannot be sued for refusing to enforce a domestic violence restraining order. In the case of Town of Castle Rock, Colorado v. Jessica Gonzales, the Court declared that Gonzales had no rights to sue Castle Rock police for repeatedly refusing to enforce a restraining order against her estranged ex-husband, Simon Gonzales, who murdered all three of their daughters later that night.

"This is a truly outrageous decision — the U.S. Supreme Court just hung a 'Shoot Here' sign around the necks of battered women and their children all across the country," said NOW President Kim Gandy.

The ruling, which effectively gives law enforcement a green light to ignore restraining orders, will cause tremendous harm to abuse victims who attempt to leave violent life-threatening environments.

Jessica Gonzales divorced her abusive husband and, after determining that he posed a threat to both her and her children, she filed for and received a protective order. However, in June 1999, a mere month after obtaining the order, Jessica Gonzales' children were not returned to her after visitation. She contacted the local police who told her to call back after 10 p.m. if her children had not been returned. At 3:20 am, after the Castle Rock police had ignored five calls from Jessica Gonzales, Simon Gonzales showed up and opened fire on the police station. He was fatally shot, and later the police found the three Gonzales children murdered in the back of their father's pick-up truck.

The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia, overturned a ruling by the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which had permitted Jessica Gonzales' claim against the local government for repeatedly refusing to take action to uphold her restraining order. The 10th Circuit based its decision on the clear language of the Colorado statute, which mandated the enforcement of such orders.

The Supreme Court failed victims of abuse everywhere by ruling against Jessica Gonzales. Without effective enforcement of protective orders, what recourse is left for victimized women and their children? "Abusers may feel they have a green light to ignore restraining orders, and police departments under budget restraints could see domestic violence enforcement as a 'no penalty' area to cut resources," Gandy said.

The Castle Rock police denied Jessica Gonzales and her three daughters the protection they deserved. Then the Supreme Court failed to protect her rights after her children were killed. The U.S. Congress must stand up for Jessica Gonzales and the thousands of women like her across the country by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and by adding increased enforcement authority. And every state must enhance its laws to mandate enforcement of restraining orders — and back it up with the right to sue.

 

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