Voisine extends firearm prohibition to reckless misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence
Posted on 07/25/2016 at 12:00 AM by Mary Zambreno
According to 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), federal law already prohibits any person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm. However, that phrase was generally limited to knowing or intentional domestic violence under a previous Supreme Court case, United States v. Castleman. But in a 6-2 vote last month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that misdemeanor convictions for reckless domestic violence also triggers the statutory firearms ban.
In Voisine v. United States, one of the petitioners pled guilty in 2004 to assaulting his girlfriend and then years later killed a bald eagle. Police officers learned that he owned a rifle and charged him with having violated the federal statute prohibiting possession of firearms. The other petitioner pled guilty in 2008 to assaulting his wife and then years later, officers searching his home as part of a narcotics investigation discovered six guns and large quantities of ammunition. He, too, was charged with having violated the federal statute prohibition possession of firearms. The petitioners argued that their prior convictions could have been based on reckless – as opposed to knowing or intentional – conduct so the firearms prohibition should not have applied.
The Supreme Court disagreed and held that a reckless domestic assault also qualifies as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence because reckless assaults necessarily include the use of physical force. The Court noted that 34 states plus the District of Columbia had defined misdemeanor offenses to include the reckless infliction of bodily harm, thereby abandoning the common law requirement of proving a mens rea greater than recklessness. The petitioners’ interpretation of the federal statute would effectively render inoperative the statutes passed in those jurisdictions.
Iowa also generally prohibits persons from knowingly possessing firearms and ammunition if he or she has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. When a defendant is subject to a protective order, for example, the order must give notice that he or she must relinquish all firearms and ammunition while the order is in effect or the conviction is vacated.
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