Cleary Gottlieb Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of DV LEAP in Significant Victory for Victims of Sexual Assault

April 1, 2015

The D.C. Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that was a major win for victims of sexual assault. Cleary Gottlieb filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP), the Network for Victim Recovery of DC, and the National Crime Victim Law Institute in support of a sexual assault victim who had obtained a civil protection order (“CPO”) requiring her attacker to vacate his apartment, where the crime occurred. On March 26, 2015, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a broad decision agreeing with our position and resoundingly endorsing the authority of the trial court to issue the vacate order.

In this case, the perpetrator – who acted as building manager – and victim lived in the same small apartment complex. The perpetrator gave the victim what appears to have been a drugged drink. The next morning, she woke up in the perpetrator’s bed naked from the waist down and was told by the perpetrator that “what had to happen, happened.” The trial judge issued a CPO requiring the attacker to vacate his apartment, which the victim had to pass by in order to enter or exit the building. The court found that the vacate order was necessary to keep the victim safe and give her a measure of peace of mind.

The perpetrator appealed the CPO order arguing, inter alia, that the trial court lacked the statutory authority to order him to vacate his home. Cleary Gottlieb’s amicus brief argued that issuing a vacate order under these circumstances was well within the power of the trial court under a catchall provision in the Intrafamily Offenses Act (the “Act”) and explained that the courts in D.C. and nationwide have repeatedly applied catchall provisions in CPO statutes broadly for the benefit of victims. The brief also discussed the unfortunate prevalence of sexual assault (including drug facilitated sexual assault) and the importance of carefully-crafted CPO relief, not only to the safety of victims, but also to their mental health and recovery.

The D.C. Court of Appeals strongly affirmed that the Act authorizes the court to order a perpetrator to vacate his own home where such relief is necessary to effectuate a stay-away order and give the victim peace of mind. The Court also agreed with our argument that ensuring “peace of mind” (what we called trauma recovery) is an important consideration in crafting CPO relief. Finally, this decision is the first since the Act was expanded to non-family/intimate partners to affirm that sexual abuse victims have equal access to statutory remedies. In sum, the Court’s decision was an important victory that should help other victims of sexual abuse obtain meaningful relief.