Castle Rock v. Gonzales – Police not liable for failing to enforce a restraining order

In Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), the Supreme Court ruled, 7–2, that a town and its police department could not be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order, which led to the murder of a woman’s three children by her estranged husband.

From Wikipedia: “During divorce proceedings, Jessica Lenahan-Gonzales, a resident of Castle Rock, Colorado, obtained a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking and controlling her, on June 4, 1999, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards (91 m) from her and her four children (son Jesse, who is not Simon’s biological child, and daughters Rebecca, Katherine, and Leslie) except during specified visitation time. On June 22, at approximately 5:15 pm, Simon took possession of his three daughters in violation of the order. Jessica called the police at approximately 7:30 pm, 8:30 pm, 10:10 pm, and 12:15 am on June 23, and visited the police station in person at 12:40 am on June 23. However, since she from time to time had allowed Simon to take the children at various hours, the police took no action, despite Simon having called Jessica prior to her second police call and informing her that he had the daughters with him at an amusement park in Denver, Colorado. At approximately 3:20 am on June 23, Simon appeared at the Castle Rock police station and was killed in a shoot-out with the officers. A search of his vehicle revealed the corpses of the three daughters, who it has been assumed he killed prior to his arrival.

“The Supreme Court reversed the Tenth Circuit’s decision, reinstating the District Court’s order of dismissal. The Court’s majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law; were a mandate for enforcement to exist, it would not create an individual right to enforcement that could be considered a protected entitlement under the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth; and even if there were a protected individual entitlement to enforcement of a restraining order, such entitlement would have no monetary value and hence would not count as property for the Due Process Clause. Justice David Souter wrote a concurring opinion, using the reasoning that enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process, and that there is not due process protection for processes. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion, in which he wrote that with respect to whether or not an arrest was mandatory under Colorado law, the court should either have deferred to the 10th Circuit court’s finding that it was or else certified the question to the Colorado Supreme Court rather than decide the issue itself. He went on to write that the law created a statutory guarantee of enforcement, which is an individual benefit and constitutes a protected property interest under Roth, rejecting the court’s use of O’Bannon v. Town Court Nursing Center to require a monetary value and the concurrence’s distinction between enforcement of the restraining order (the violator’s arrest) and the benefit of enforcement (safety from the violator).

The National Organization for Women has argued the Supreme Court’s decision reduced the utility of restraining orders and “effectively gives law enforcement a green light to ignore restraining orders.”

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_of_Castle_Rock_v._Gonzales

 

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