Purple Berets


Maria Teresa Macias - Murdered April 15, 1996

The Murder of
María Teresa Macias

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The Macias Decision
9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals
July 20th, 2000

by Marie De Santis, Women's Justice Center

Women Have a Constitutional Right to Nondiscriminatory Police Services! This landmark decision is now binding law in all states and jurisdictions of the U.S. 9th Judicial District; Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Isles.

In a groundbreaking unanimous decision on July 20th, the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that women have a constitutional right to nondiscriminatory police services. The ruling overturns the district court's 1999 dismissal of Macias v. Sheriff Mark Ihde, and in the most clearly stated decision of its kind to date, establishes that women have a constitutional 14th amendment right to hold police legally accountable for their response to violence against women. Even if the Macias case were to lose back in the district court, this overarching decision laid down by the second highest court in the land will remain law.

Throughout history and right into the present day, many in law enforcement have regularly dumped, ignored, and simply not wanted to deal seriously with cases of rape and domestic violence. And women have never had legal right nor remedy to hold law enforcement accountable.

When pressed to answer for their disregard of one or many cases, police have been able to answer assuredly that they have officer discretion to handle these cases as they wish. And the highest courts of the land have agreed. No wonder the violence against women rages on!

Maria Teresa Macias was shot to death by her estranged husband Avelino in the town of Sonoma on April 15, 1996. For more than a year prior to her murder, María Teresa had repeatedly sought help from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Dept. regarding her husband's years of violence against herself and her three children. In just the last three months of her life, after having obtained a restraining order, María Teresa called the Sheriff's Department for help on at least fourteen occasions. Calls and written reports to law enforcement detailed Avelino's continued stalking, rape, false imprisonment, threats to kill, and harassment, as well as his decade of physical and sexual violence against María Teresa and her children.

The $15 million federal civil rights lawsuit, filed October 9, 1996, alleges that the Sheriff's Department discriminated against Teresa as a woman, as a Latina, and as a victim of violence against women. The suit further alleges that the Sheriff's Department denied her constitutional right to equal protection of the law by failing to take reports, by ignoring evidence, discouraging her from calling, and more. In addition, deputies never arrested Avelino despite ample authority and their own written policy to do so.

Since 1868, the fourteenth amendment to the constitution has promised equal protection of the laws to all persons. By common sense and by all that's right, this amendment should have protected women. But throughout history, women have been all but excluded from it's coverage. Since 1868, as women have tried to establish their equal rights to vote, to work, or to justice, from the amendment's promising words, the supreme court has again, and again into the present, ruled from the dark-age legacy of their `separate sphere ideology' for women.

"By divine ordination," as the Supreme Court first stated this damning doctrine of women as other than person, "women are ‘properly placed in a class by herself."' And so over time, the more women appealed to the 14th amendment for equal rights, the more the Supreme Court said "No, you're different," and the deeper the Court has driven the wedge of women's inequality into the heart of American law.

It's only in the last couple decades that women have begun to reverse some of the damages, and this mostly in the areas of labor and education rights. In the areas of law enforcement, however, the highest courts, as the Supreme Court did twice in 1989, have in fact solidified law enforcement's discretion to deny justice to women with impunity.

Now, after a century and a half, at least in the 9th U.S. Judicial District, the Macias decision rules. Women now have constitutional remedy to hold police legally accountable when justice and protection are systematically denied. The language of this new ruling is unflinching. It rings so clearly with what is right as to be virtually unassailable.


© Marie De Santis
Women's Justice Center
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