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The Bill of Rights: the Case of Domestic Violence

Jessica Gonzales is a case of domestic violence. She is a lady that has fallen victim to being shut out of court (Johnson, 2006). This happened after her children could not be protected from her estranged husband by the Colorado police. Despite the inhuman crime he committed in 1999 by her rather abusive husband, a restraining order could not be raised against him by the police (Markowitz, 2000). The husband had actually abducted and killed their three young daughters of ages ranging from seven to ten years. Despite her several calls to the police to attempt and ensure the safety of her children, no response was gotten from them. It was later on (after about ten hours) that her husband went to the police department with his pickup truck in which he had dumped the bodies of the children. The fire exchange that immediately followed led to his death.

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She was to later on file a lawsuit which was rejected by the U.S. Supreme court on grounds that she had no constitutional right to have the police enforce her restraining order (Iliffe, 2000). In this case, her right to relief was denied. This was despite the fact that there was a valid protective order (Markowitz, 2000). The Supreme Court stood to its word that the government had no such duty as to offer protection to citizens from violence in private circumstances (Johnson, 2006). Another point worth noting is that the police had enough information and time to jump into action and prevent the death of the three girls (Johnson, 2006).

Because of all these Miss Gonzales cannot be compensated by the state for the otherwise avoidable domestic violence inflicted on her children. It is also important to note that to date it is not possible to hold law enforcement officials accountable when unable to act in due time (Iliffe, 2000).

The ruling was described by President Kim Gandy as a “shoot here’ sign around the necks of battered women and their children all across the country” (Markowitz, 2000, p. 279). This assessment is quite authentic and cannot be disputed.

In most cases, such lawsuits do not end up successful. This is because international human rights law is made up of slightly more than a series of suggestions (Markowitz, 2000). Over time a majority of women’s rights among other human rights treaties have been neglected by the U.S. This particular lawsuit could be instrumental in bringing more public attention to the case and consequently pressurize state governments to act to prevent future occurrences of the same nature (Johnson, 2006).

Gonzales’ case was filed under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in which she claimed a Protection to a property interest in enforcing the restraining order and alleging “an official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complements of restraining order violations” (Johnson, 2006, p. 557). A motion was granted to dismiss the case, after which she took her appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal (Markowitz, 2000). Her otherwise convincing due process claim could not be accepted by members of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (Johnson, 2006). They however got a procedural due process claim. A similar conclusion was reached by an en banc rehearing (Markowitz, 2000). Three officers were consequently found to be immune and therefore no charge could be raised against them.

It is the Supreme Court that was involved in the reversal of the initial decision. Its decision was based on the idea that the enforcement of the order was not a must under Colorado law (Johnson, 2006). If that was the case, it would not enable one’s right to enforcement to be given priority according to the precedent of Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth (Johnson, 2006). Even if this were to exist, no monetary value could be considered in such an entitlement (Markowitz, 2000). This was further echoed by Justice David Souter where he reasons, “enforcement of a restraining order is a process, not the interest protected by the process; there is also no due process protection for processes” (Iliffe, 2000, p. 393).

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Iliffe, G. (2000). Exploring the counselor’s experience of working with perpetrators and survivors of domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15(1), 393-412.

Johnson, M.P. (2006). Violence and abuse in personal relationships: Conflict, terror, and resistance in intimate partnerships. In A. L. Vangelisti & D. Perlman (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of personal relationships (pp. 557-576). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Markowitz, S. (2000). The Price of Alcohol, Wife Abuse, and Husband Abuse. Southern Economic Journal (Southern Economic Association), 67 (2), 279–303.

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