Update on Jessica Gonzales v. U.S. Merits Hearing
Thursday, October 30, 2008 4:41 PM

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a merits hearing on the Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzalez) case on 22 October 2008 in Washington, D.C., a year after its admissibility decision on 5 October 2007. That decision declared the case admissible because Lenahan had exhausted all of her legal remedies under United States law, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man required the United States to protect domestic violence victims from private acts of violence.


Jessica Lenahan, a domestic violence survivor in the United States, claims that her human rights were violated in 1999 by local police who ignored her calls for help when her husband violated a restraining order. He kidnapped and murdered their three children. Her suit against the Castle Rock, Colorado, Police Department, ultimately failed in 2005, when the United States Supreme Court held she had no constitutional right to have the Police Department enforce her restraining order. Lenahan then filed suit against the United States at IACHR. Her legal team consists of lawyers from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union; the U.S. Department of State represented the United States.

At the merits hearing on 22 October, the Columbia/ACLU team made several legal arguments on Lenahan’s behalf (click here to read the brief), all based on the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. First, Lenahan argued the United States has an affirmative duty to protect the rights of its citizens that are enumerated in the Declaration, but the United States failed this duty when the Castle Rock police did not act to prevent her daughters’ murders. In particular, she argued the United States had duties to respond to her complaints when her daughters were kidnapped, to protect her daughters and to conduct a timely and thorough investigation into their murders. The United States’ failure to uphold its duties violated her and her daughters’ rights to life and personal security, and to family and private life. These failures also violated Lenahan’s rights to a remedy, humane treatment, truth, and equality.

The United States government argued that the petitioners had not demonstrated that the United States government, through its representatives in the Castle Rock police, breached its duties under the American Declaration.  The government argued that the police acted reasonably and in good faith.

The IACHR asked a number of questions of both the petitioners and respondent United States government.  The IACHR has not yet arrived at a decision on the merits in this case.

Compiled from:

Brief for Petitioner: Jessica Gonzalez v. United States of America, Final Observations Regarding the Merits of the Case, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Case No. 12.626, 24 March 2008 (PDF, 166 pages).

Columbia Law School, Human Rights Clinic Docket, Violence Against Women: Jessica Gonzalez v. United States of America (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) (accessed 28 October 2008).

Jessica Gonzalez and Others v. United States, Report No. 52/07, Petition for Admissibility 1490-05, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 24 July 2007.



Photos from merits hearing, taken by Juan Manuel Herrera (OAS/OEA).


Videos from merits hearing (WMV format, 1:32 hours) (English and Spanish).


YouTube background video: Update on the Jessica Gonzalez Case (18 October 2008) (accessed 28 October 2008) (9:41 minutes).