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Bruno v. McGuire

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Synopsis

Bruno v. McGuire is a lawsuit that challenged the New York City Police Department’s policy of refusing to arrest men who beat their wives. It also charged court clerks and counselors with refusing to allow battered women to file petitions seeking Orders of Protection against their husbands.

Description

Bruno v. McGuire is a lawsuit the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed together with lawyers from MFY Legal Services, Inc., the Legal Aid Society’s Civil Division, and Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation B that challenged the New York City Police Department’s long-standing policy and practice of refusing to arrest men who beat their wives. It also charged clerks and family counselors working in the Family Court with refusing to allow battered women to exercise their right, guaranteed by statute, to file petitions in the court seeking Orders of Protection against their husbands.

In an unprecedented out-of-court settlement resulting from CCR’s lawsuit on behalf of battered wives, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) agreed to change its policy of refusing to arrest men who beat their wives. And from that point on, the police were required to arrest in cases of felonious assault or any other felony, as long as probable cause exists to believe that the husband committed the crime. The police also agreed to arrest in cases where the woman has previously obtained an Order of Protection forbidding her husband to commit certain acts against her, and there is a probable cause to believe that he violated the Order.

Previously, instead of permitting access to the judge, these clerks and counselors in Family Court told battered women to “kiss and make up,” that the beating was their own fault, or that what their husbands did to them was not illegal at all.

The impact of the police agreement was felt all across the country. Police departments in Chicago and New Haven, when threatened with lawsuits modeled after Bruno, agreed to adopt policies similar to those achieved in New York. Negotiations with other police departments across the country followed, and attorneys for battered women in many cities told us that the precedent set by the New York police in CCR’s case represented a powerful bargaining tool. Attorneys in cities where negotiations were not successful went to court, using the suit as a model.

The part of the suit directed against the employees in Family Court was dismissed by a divided vote of the intermediate appellate court. CCR appealed the case to the New York Court of Appeals, the State’s highest court. In that appeal, CCR was supported by two amicus curiae briefs: one filed jointly by 13 local and national organizations which work with battered women, and one by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The appeal was argued on June 4, 1979.