Supreme Court: You Are On Your Own

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation. Read more»

Linda Greenhouse, “Justices Rule Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone” (June 28, 2005)


  1. When you click on “read more”, in red, the link is dead. You get a 404 page not found message. If able, please refresh the link and feel free to delete this comment.

  2. This is a poorly worded title, “You are on Your Own,” as that is not what the Supreme Court said. What was determined is that the plaintiff in the suit, who was the victim of the crime, used an invalid argument by citing the 14th Amendment, the protection against discrimination, to right a wrong. They did not say that the plaintiff had no grounds for complaint. Not having all of the facts before us we may not come to the same conclusion that Greenhouse so eagerly does.

    • William,

      Would that you were correct but I do not think that you are. The case is Castle Rock v Gonzales:

      No. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that Gonzales had no constitutionally-protected property interest in the enforcement of the restraining order, and therefore could not claim that the police had violated her right to due process. In order to have a “property interest” in a benefit as abstract as enforcement of a restraining order, the Court ruled, Gonzales would have needed a “legitimate claim of entitlement” to the benefit. The opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia found that state law did not entitle the holder of a restraining order to any specific mandatory action by the police. Instead, restraining orders only provide grounds for arresting the subject of the order. The specific action to be taken is up to the discretion of the police. The Court stated that “This is not the sort of ‘entitlement’ out of which a property interest is created.” The Court concluded that since “Colorado has not created such an entitlement,” Gonzales had no property interest and the Due Process Clause was therefore inapplicable. Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented. [“Castle Rock v. Gonzales.” Oyez, 24 Feb. 2018, ]

      At least one amicus brief in Heller (2008) appealed to Castle Rock v Gonzales as indicating the the police have no absolute duty to protect citizens.

      Here is the text of the Heller decision itself.

      Students in law-enforcement academies are taught that under Castle Rock, they have no absolute duty to protect citizens. This language from a law-enforcement related publication is typical of that being used:

      In a sweeping conclusion the Court reiterated its position on the lack of constitutional duty of government actors to protect citizens from third party harm and the ability of states to enact legislation that recognizes such protection as a matter of state law if the state so chooses. The Court held: “In light of today’s decision and that in DeShaney, the benefit that a third party may receive from having someone else arrested for a crime generally does not trigger protections under the Due Process Clause, neither in its procedural nor in its ‘substantive’ manifestations. This result reflects our continuing reluctance to treat the Fourteenth Amendment as ‘a font of tort law,’…. but it does not mean States are powerless to provide victims with personally enforceable remedies. Although the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13 (the original source of § 1983), did not create a system by which police departments are generally held financially accountable for crimes that better policing might have prevented, the people of Colorado are free to craft such a system under state law.”

      Key Points:

      Law Enforcement generally has no constitutional duty to protect citizens from third party harm.

      A duty may be found when law enforcement officers have in some way created or enhance the danger to an individual.

      A duty will be found in cases where the person to be protected is in the custody of government against his will and are powerless to protect himself.

      This 2011 Police Academy textbook concurs: “The Supreme Court ruled that police have no constitutional duty to protect.”

    • We are both correct. I did not say that you were not. The case in question was not about protection under the 14th amendment, which was the basis of the decision. That’s all. Being a retired police officer gives me a little expertise in this matter. The constitution does not even speak about police officers of state and local governments duties. Castle Rock basically says that police are not security guards for individuals. Had the police been called to the home of the victim where she was protected by a court ordered writ of protection and the suspect was there, in violation, they would have had the duty to arrest the suspect. The duty is to enforce the law. not guard your house.

      If the citizens were really on their own nobody ever told me. I still have the night mares to prove it.

  3. There are at least four officers in Florida who believe the citizens were on their own. And with all respect Mr. Duncan, I’ll bet those citizens and their parents have nightmares of their own.


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