Hastings Law Journal


Lynn A. Combs


Despite systemic reforms during the late twentieth century, domestic violence victims still face a troubling threat from their abusers. Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, which holds that there is no constitutional right guaranteeing that police will enforce restraining orders, highlights a disjunction between the legal reality, which is rooted in law enforcement's discretion, and the social reality, where intimate partners are perpetrating acts of violence because restraining orders afford victims little protection. According to Castle Rock, even statutes that seemingly mandate abuser arrests may still allow police officers significant discretion to determine how, when, and if they need to respond to victims' requests for restraining order enforcement. Further, a 2005 report from the California Attorney General's Office detailed significant system-wide failures in the judicial and executive branches' protection of domestic violence victims and prosecution of perpetrators. The report showed that the government's failure to enforce restraining orders and take domestic violence threats seriously is a problem not just confined to the facts of Castle Rock.

This Note examines Castle Rock, its holding, and the California Attorney General's Report, ultimately concluding that systemic changes should be made to afford greater protections to domestic violence victims. Specifically, this Note advocates a better-coordinated national database to archive the issuance of restraining orders and domestic violence convictions. Such a repository would allow law enforcement officials to track domestic violence more effectively. Further, this Note suggests that state legislatures reevaluate mandatory arrest statutes to eliminate potential ambiguities where the legislature intended to eliminate law enforcement discretion. Finally, this Note suggests changing prosecutorial and judicial structures to create more specialization and awareness, and allow victims easier access to resources.

The policy changes of the late twentieth century have not solved the domestic violence problem, and society cannot be complacent in the face of domestic violence cases such as Castle Rock and corroborating data that evidence the dangers domestic violence victims continue to face.

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