The United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in United States v. Castleman today, which addresses the federal prohibition on gun possession for individuals who have convictions for “misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.” Disagreeing with the District Court and the Sixth Circuit, the Supreme Court ruled that a conviction for a simple domestic assault results in a federal lifetime prohibition against possession of firearms.
Issue Presented to the Court:
Did a conviction for assault bodily injury (ABI) where the victim was the mother the defendant’s children prohibit a defendant from possessing a gun?
18 USC 922(g)(9) prohibits anyone who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from shipping or transporting in interstate or foreign commerce, or possessing in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition…
18 USC 921(a)(22) defines a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” as a
(i) misdemeanor under Federal, State, or Tribal law; and
(ii) has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.
- Is this a misdemeanor under Federal, State or Tribal law?
- Yes. Assault bodily injury is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee (where the offense took place.) TCA 39-13-101
- Was this a person whom this statute applied to?
- Yes. They shared a child together.
- Did it contain an element that included the use or attempted use of physical force or deadly weapon?
- This was the key issue in this case.
- The charging language for the misdemeanor says nothing about the use or attempted use of force
- The District Court ruled without the use of force element, the possession of the firearm did not fall under 18 USC 922(g)(9).
- The Sixth Circuit affirmed, but their reasoning was the conviction did not qualify as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” because the Appellant could have been convicted for causing] a slight, non-serious physical injury with conduct that could not be described as violent.
- Analysis of the Supreme Court
- Absent any other indication, Congress intends on giving terms their common-law meanings, except where that meaning does not fit.
- The common law meaning of force is an offensive touching
- Acts that are commonly referred to as “domestic violence” cases do not turn on the “violence” of the offense, noting that even minor acts can accumulate over time and subject one partner to the control of the other.
- If these minor acts in a domestic situation then lead to the attention of authorities and successful prosecution, it does not offend the common sense meaning of the phrase “misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence” to include these types of offenses.
A Different Outcome Under Texas State Law:
- If it had been more than 5 years from the release from confinement or date of release from probation, the possession of the firearm would not be prohibited.
- If the offense were a simple battery (an assault by contact) the five-year prohibition would not apply under Sec. 46.04 of the Penal Code.
Gun Restrictions in Texas for Criminal Offenses
|Class A Family Violence “a crime||5 years from the release from confinement or date of release from probation||Penal Code Sec. 46.04 (b)|
|Any felony (including domestic violence)||5 years from the release from confinement or date of release from probation||Penal Code Sec. 46.04 (a)|
“Family Violence Offenses” in Texas:
Family Code Sec. 71.004. “Family violence” means:(1) an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself;
(2) abuse, … by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household; or
(3) dating violence, …
Interestingly, unlike convictions for Class A, Assault-Family Violence cases in Texas, Class C offenses in Texas do not require admonishments from the judge that a plea of guilty to the offense could limit the defendant’s ability to possess a firearm in the future.
For more information, contact a Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney.