Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project

The following are some of our most signficant cases under the Rights Litigation Project:


Voisine and Armstrong v. United States – 2016

Supreme Court of the United States

This Supreme Court case presents another challenge (see Hayes, Castleman, infra) to the federal firearms ban for individuals convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." The Petitioners (two men convicted of domestic abuse) argued that Congress incorporated a common law definition of battery in its definition of "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" and that common law precluded battery based on recklessness.  They also argued that legal mandates result in many domestic violence convictions for conduct that is "minor." DV LEAP's brief was filed with the excellent assistance of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, as well as AEquitas, and Futures without Violence. The brief (1) argued that the common law does not control interpretation of this 1996 statute (2) provided practical details demonstrating how, if reckless convictions were excluded, the vast majority of state prosecutions of batterers would be removed from the federal firearms ban; and (3) contradicted Petitioners’ claims that too many minor domestic abuse cases are prosecuted.  In a resounding victory for victims of domestic violence, the Court agreed that early common law was not as clear as the Petitioners argued, and that in any event, it should not constrict the statute's scope, and that the Petitioner's position would lead to undermining the ban in 34 states and the District of Columbia.  This ruling ensures that federal law continues to ban possession of firearms by most convicted batterers.


Elonis v. United States

The issue in this case is the definition of a “true threat” for purposes of determining whether the First Amendment protects the speech.  Elonis argues that without proof that he subjectively intended to threaten his estranged wife and several others, the state may not prosecute him because the First Amendment protects his threatening words.  Here the threats were made on Facebook and the social media context has been argued to be relevant to determining the scope of First Amendment protections.  DV LEAP argues that it is not –that subjective intent would make protection of victims far harder than it already is – and that the ruling in this case will reach not only criminal prosecutions but civil protection orders, which look to criminal law standards.


Ohio v. Clark 

United States Supreme Court - 2014 

This is the third confrontation rights case DV LEAP has participated in.  Here the Ohio Supreme Court held that a man accused of abusing a child could exclude the child’s disclosures to “mandatory reporters” (i.e., teachers) because their status makes the child’s statements “testimonial” (ie given in anticipation of use at trial) and inadmissible, under the Court’s new confrontation rights jurisprudence.  DV LEAP filed two amicus briefs arguing that (1) many civil courts apply the Court’s confrontation doctrine even though it technically only governs criminal courts, and (2) it is already difficult to protect child victims of abuse in family courts and this kind of disclosure is essential.  DV LEAP’s brief on the merits added a third argument that before and after the Constitution’s adoption, children’s hearsay “outcries” of sexual assault were admitted in criminal courts despite general hearsay exclusions.  The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that protects abused children, ruling that a child’s statements to his teacher about who it was that hurt him could be used in court against the defendant, even though the child did not testify. Six of the Justices signed an opinion that portends increasing flexibility toward out of court statements in the future. 

(The merits brief is missing from the website but you should be able to find it in the Briefs File on the R drive; let me know if you have problems finding it. You'll be able to tell that it's the correct one because the last page should have the date it was filed.)


Lozano v. Alvarez

United States Supreme Court - 2013

This was our second Hague Convention on Civil International Abduction case; here the “abducting” parent was known to be fleeing an abusive husband and father.  The issue before the Court was whether the “now settled” protection from automatic return of a child after a year in the new place should be lifted when the removing parent concealed the location of the child. DV LEAP’s amicus brief argued that “equitable tolling” would violate the clear intent of the Convention, but that courts should look to the facts that motivated any concealment in determining whether or not the child is “well settled.”  The Court agreed that equitable tolling cannot be applied to the “now settled” defense, even if the removing parent conceals the location of the child. However, a 3-judge concurrence emphasized that the court still has discretion to order the child returned even if the child is “well settled”. 


Florence v. Board of Freeholders

U.S. Supreme Court-2011

DV LEAP's amicus brief, prepared by a superb team at Hogan Lovells, argued against a New Jersey law that allows police to conduct suspicion-less strip searches.  While this practice may be disturbing for anyone, the amicus brief argued that it is particularly harmful to victims of domestic violence; as such an invasive search often re-traumatizes a victim.  The Supreme Court recently issued a decision upholding the strip search in this case, while reserving possible limits in other contexts.  DV LEAP’s brief was referenced in the four Justice dissent.


Robertson v. Watson

U.S. Supreme Court - 2010

The Supreme Court issued a favorable decision in In re Robertson, a case that originated in D.C., involving the right of victims of domestic violence to privately prosecute violations of civil protection orders through contempt.  After oral argument, the Supreme Court dismissed the case because certiorari was “improvidently granted,” thereby leaving in place the favorable DC Court of Appeals decision.  DV LEAP's amicus brief argued that private enforcement of CPOs is critical to the transformative potential of the CPO remedy, that the government cannot enforce all violations of CPOs, that even "minor" violations are sometimes preludes to lethal violence, and that private criminal contempt litigation still affords the accused all due process protections.  DV LEAP also recruited two additional amicus briefs from the family law and victims rights fields. 


Abbott v. Abbott

U.S. Supreme Court - 2010

This is a Hague Convention on Civil International Abduction case, in which the Court ruled that the "return" remedy (which normally is only available to parents with "rights of custody") is also available to noncustodial parents, when the abduction violates a legal order restricting both parents’ travel with the child.  At argument the Court indicated significant concerns about the issues raised in DV LEAP’s brief – which was filed on behalf of itself and several other national domestic violence organizations, and argued that the majority of international "abducting" parents are custodial mothers fleeing abuse with their children, and that expanding the return remedy will subject more children and mothers to further abuse.  


U.S. v. Hayes

U.S. Supreme Court-2009

DV LEAP co-counseled a brief with the National Network to End Domestic Violence and others, arguing that the federal gun ban on batterers convicted of a misdemeanor should not be construed to apply only when the state misdemeanor statute is specifically aimed at domestic abusers.  In Febraury 2009, the Court reversed the Fourth Circuit's unfavorable decision, with a vote of 7-2 in favor of rational interpretation of the federal gun ban.  This is a very important victory for constraining possession of guns by batterers.  The opinion cited DV LEAP's brief among other things. 


Giles v. California

U.S. Supreme Court - 2008

DV LEAP spearheaded and co-authored the leading domestic violence amicus brief in this case, concerning whether a batterer who kills his victim forfeits his right to confront that victim at trial or whether forfeiture only attaches if he killed her for the purpose of silencing her testimony.  The high Court concluded that such a defendant retains a right to confront the victim he killed, but a majority of the justices agreed that a history of domestic violence is a meaningful indication of the defendant’s “intent to silence” the victim when he killed her.  The multiple opinions demonstrated a remarkable understanding of domestic violence as a form of silencing of the victim.


Hammon v. Indiana; Davis v. Washington

U.S. Supreme Court - 2006 

DV LEAP spearheaded and co-authored the sole domestic violence amicus brief in, the Supreme Court case which addresses what out of court statements may be admitted in the absence of the victim’s testimony in court (our brief had a significant impact on the decision).


City of Castle Rock, CO v. Gonzales

U.S. Supreme Court - 2005 

DV LEAP co-authored a leading amicus brief on behalf of 5 police organizations (siding with the victim) in the Supreme Court case, which concerned the failure of the Castle Rock police to enforce Ms. Gonzales’ protection order, resulting in the murders of the three children.





F v. Board of Freeholders

U.S. Supreme Court-2011

DV LEAP's amicus brief, prepared by a superb team at Hogan Lovells, argued against a New Jersey law that allows police to conduct suspicion-less strip searches.  While this practice may be disturbing for anyone, the amicus brief argued that it is particularly harmful to victims of domestic violence; as such an invasive search often re-traumatizes a victim.