Published June 19, 2014
SUNY Buffalo Law School’s Domestic Violence Task Force hosted a panel presentation featuring Jessica (Gonzales) Lenahan. Jessica spoke about her highly publicized U.S. Supreme Court case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005), and her efforts to secure the rights of women and children who depend on domestic violence restraining orders to protect them.
In 1999, the Castle Rock, Colorado, police repeatedly refused to enforce an order of protection against Jessica’s estranged husband, Simon, after he took their three children one evening without permission. Early the next morning, Simon pulled up to the police station and began firing at the station with a gun he had purchased hours before. Simon was shot dead by the police officers, and the three children, Rebecca (10), Katheryn (8), and Leslie (7) were found dead in the back of his truck.
Jessica sued the town of Castle Rock, Colorado, for non-enforcement of her restraining order, and pursued her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. While the Court found that she and other Americans have no Constitutional right to enforcement of their protective orders, Jessica continued on and became the first domestic violence victim to sue the U.S. government in an international human rights tribunal.
In 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) supported Jessica’s argument and found U.S. domestic violence policies in violation of victims' human rights, including Jessica's and her children's, and further recommended changes to U.S. domestic violence law and policy.
In response to the IACHR’s decision, Jessica stated, "I have waited 12 years for justice, knowing in my heart that police inaction led to the tragic and untimely deaths of my three young daughters. Today's decision tells the world that the government violated my human rights by failing to protect me and my children from domestic violence."
The Women, Children, and Social Justice Clinic of SUNY Buffalo Law School has since worked with the Erie County Legislature for Erie County to adopt the IACHR 's recommendations.
This program was made possible by the generosity of the following sponsors: SUNY Buffalo Law School's Dean Office, Sub-Board I, UB's Gender Institute, Buffalo Human Rights Center, New York State Bar Association, Kaplan, Student Bar Association, UB SoFem GSA, & UB Neuroscience GSA.