First Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Hearing on a Domestic Violence Victim's Complaint against the United States
Friday, February 23, 2007 10:39 AM

On March 2, 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear Jessica Gonzales v. United States.  This marks the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ first individual complaint against the United States brought by a domestic violence victim. In June 1999, Jessica Gonzales’ estranged husband, Simon Gonzales kidnapped their three children out of her front yard. Despite a valid restraining order barring Simon Gonzales from contact with the family, the police refused to enforce the order and retrieve the children. Over the course of the evening, the police were contacted several times and even informed of the probable location of the children yet they refused to act. At 3:20AM, Simon Gonzales went voluntarily to the police station. He fired a gun at the police station and was killed in an exchange with officers. After his death, police found the bodies of the three murdered children in his truck.

Ms. Gonzales sued the town of Castle Rock for failure to enforce the restraining order, alleging that she had a property right to have a restraining order enforced and that Castle Rock’s failure to enforce it was an actionable deprivation. The district court dismissed the matter. On appeal, The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal and held that Ms. Gonzales had a claim of a violation of her procedural due process rights and that the case should be decided on the merits. The Court of Appeals held that the Colorado law under which the restraining order was issued mandated police enforcement and that Ms. Gonzales had a protected property interest in the enforcement of her restraining order. The town appealed to the United States Supreme Court. On 27 June 2005, the United States’ Supreme Court issued its opinion in Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales. The Court held, in a 7-2 opinion, that there is no property right to enforcement of a restraining order under the United States Constitution.

Gonzales filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December of 2005 alleging violations under Articles I, II, V, VI, VII, IX, XVII, and XXIV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and requested an investigation and hearing on the merits under Article 23 of the Commission's Regulations. The Government filed a response in September 2006. Gonzales filed a reply brief in December 2006. Gonzales is seeking compensation for her injuries, adoption by the United States of appropriate measures to deter similar future violations, and an advisory opinion from the Commission on the United States’ obligations to protect domestic violence victims under international law.

The hearing is set for Friday, March 2, 2007 from 10:15-11:15 A.M in the "Padilha Vidal" Room, "Salon A" of GSB Building  Organization of American States 1889 F St. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20006 and is open to the public. Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales) is scheduled to testify; she is represented by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Program and Women’s Rights Project.  

Compiled From: Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales 545 U.S. ______ (2005); Petition Alleging Violations of the Human Rights of Jessica Gonzales, ACLU; Mother of Slain Children Takes Case to International Tribunal, ACLU (Dec. 27, 2005).