enforcement of restraining orders by HC120929162049


									                 The Supreme Court Rules that Municipalities are
                Not Liable for Failing to Enforce Restraining Orders
Overshadowed by several higher profile Supreme Court decisions, the Town of New Castle v. Gonzales
decision, which was handed down the same day as the Kelo decision, was a major victory for local
governments. The question presented in the Town of New Castle case was whether an individual who has
obtained a state-law restraining order has a constitutionally protected property interest in having the police
enforce the restraining order when they have probable cause to believe it has been violated.

Facts of the Case
The Town of New Castle case arises out of the tragic deaths of Ms. Gonzales’ three children. Ms. Gonzales had
obtained a restraining order against her husband in conjunction with her divorce proceedings. The restraining
order prevented Ms. Gonzales estranged husband from molesting or disturbing her or her children. On June 22,
1999, Ms. Gonzales’ husband took her three children while they were playing outside the family home. Over
the next eight hours, Ms. Gonzales repeatedly contacted the Castle Rock Police Department and requested that
the police enforce the temporary restraining order. At approximately 3:20 a.m., Ms. Gonzales’ husband arrived
at the police state and opened fire with a handgun. The police returned fire, killing him. Inside his pickup truck
were the bodies of Ms. Gonzales’ three daughters, whom he had already killed.

Ms. Gonzales sued the Town of New Castle, claiming that the town violated the Due Process Clause because its
police department had “an official policy or custom of failing to respond properly to complaints of restraining
order violations” and “tolerate[d] the non-enforcement of restraining orders by its police officers.” The Court of
Appeals ruled against the Town of New Castle, concluding that Ms. Gonzales had a “protected property interest
in the enforcement of the terms of her restraining order” and that the town had deprived her of due process
because “the police never ‘heard’ nor seriously entertained her request to enforce and protect her interests in the
restraining order.”

The Court’s Reasoning
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a State may not “deprive any person
of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The procedural component of the Due Process Clause
does not protect everything that might be described as a “benefit”: “To have a property interest in a benefit, a
person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire” and “more than a unilateral claim of entitlement
to it.” A benefit is not a protected entitled if government officials may grant or deny it in their discretion.

Thus, the outcome of the case was dependent upon whether Colorado law made enforcement of the restraining
orders mandatory. The Court reasoned that because the principle of law-enforcement discretion, even in the
presence of seemingly mandatory legislative commands is deeply rooted in American jurisprudence, a true
mandate requiring police to act on the restraining order would require some stronger indication from the
Colorado Legislature.

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