Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Affirms Jessica Gonzales' Assertion that She Exhausted Domestic Remedies in Her Search for Justice
Monday, October 15, 2007 4:03 PM

On October 5, 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter "the Commission") rendered a favorable admissibility decision in the first phase of the case of Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales) with respect to her claims under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (hereinafter "Declaration.").  Specifically, the Commission decided that her claims to the violation of her rights to life and personal security, right to equality, protection of private and family life, protection of the family, special protection for mothers and children, resort to the courts, and prompt decision from the authorities were admissible.  In the second phase, the Commission will decide, on the merits, whether the U.S and the Castle Rock Police Department (Colorado) violated the human rights of Jessica Gonzales and her children.

Ms. Gonzales (Lenahan) is a U.S. national who petitioned for and was granted a permanent restraining order from the State of Colorado in June 1999 to protect her and her children.  The order also granted her sole physical custody of her three minor children and allowed Mr. Gonzales visitation.  While the facts are disputed by the parties, Ms. Gonzales claims that Mr. Gonzales took the children on June 22, 1999, in violation of the restraining order.  After repeatedly calling the local police, and receiving inadequate responses to her concerns about the whereabouts of her children and Mr. Gonzales' mental state, Ms. Gonzales went to the police station and filed an incident report at approximately 12:30 a.m.  At approximately 3:30 a.m. that same morning, Mr. Gonzales arrived at the police station, opened fire at police officers, and was killed.  Police discovered the Gonzales children murdered in the back of Mr. Gonzales' truck.

Ms. Gonzales initially filed a claim in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado alleging violations of her rights to substantive and procedural due process.  The District Court dismissed her case for failure to state a claim, and a panel of Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judges affirmed in part, and reversed in part.  The finding was then affirmed in a rehearing "en banc."  Ms. Gonzales filed a petition for certiorari review by the United States Supreme Court and oral arguments were heard on March 21, 2005.  The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on June 27, 2005 holding that Ms. Gonzales had no constitutionally-protected property interest in the enforcement of the restraining order, and therefore could not claim that the police had violated her right to due process.

Ms. Gonzales' petition to the Commission was filed on December 27, 2005 claiming that the police failed to respond to her calls about Mr. Gonzales taking the three Gonzales children in violation of the restraining order, that the U.S. Supreme Court validated the police officers' conduct, that her children's preventable deaths and the harm she herself suffered were violations of their rights under the Declaration, and that her rights to substantive and procedural due process and equality were violated.

Click on the following links for the full text of the decisions:

United States Supreme Court:  Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:  Admissibility, Jessica Gonzales and Others, United States (2007)

Compiled from:  Report No. 52/07, Petition 1490-05, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 5 October 2007; Castle Rock v. Gonzales, U.S. Supreme Court, 27 June 2005; "Groundbreaking Decision for Domestic Violence Victims Returned," Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, 5 October 2007.