NYLAG is Part of Landmark Decision for Women’s Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found the United States government in violation of international human rights treaties in the first domestic violence case brought before the court involving the US. NYLAG submitted an amicus brief that became the basis for a key finding in the decision.

The case involves a tragic incident in Castle Rock, Colorado. In 1999, Jessica Gonzales’s ex-husband violated a domestic violence restraining order in keeping their three daughters beyond the time set forth. Despite repeated calls over several hours and a personal visit to the station, police made no effort to locate her missing children or enforce Colorado’s mandatory arrest law on the ex-husband.

Early the next morning, Jessica’s ex-husband parked his truck in front of the Castle Rock Police Department and began firing shots at the building. Police returned fire and killed him. Law enforcement later found all three of Jessica’s daughters shot dead in the truck. Because authorities never conducted a proper investigation, Jessica still does not know whether her ex-husband or the police’s returning fire killed her daughters.

Jessica sued the Castle Rock Police Department for failing to enforce the restraining order and protect her children. She took the case to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in 2005 that Jessica did not have a constitutional right to protection despite a Colorado law mandating arrest for violations of restraining orders. New York has a similar law in place. Jessica then took her case to the IACHR, alleging that the US violated her human rights.

Christine Brandt-Young and Amanda Beltz of NYLAG’s Matrimonial and Family Law Unit and Sarah M. Buel of the University of Texas Law School submitted an amicus brief on behalf of several law school domestic violence clinics and nonprofit organizations. The brief asserted that domestic violence victims receive little protection in various jurisdictions despite the existence of the Violence Against Women Act. NYLAG’s brief became the basis of materials sent to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, whom the IACHR cited in its final decision.

The decision issued several non-binding recommendations to the US government regarding the case including “full reparations” to Jessica, a “serious and impartial” investigation into the girls’ deaths, and new laws to make protection order enforcement mandatory.