March 2, 2009

Federal Law Prohibiting Those Convicted of Misdemeanor Domestic Violence from Possessing Firearms is Strengthened by Recent Supreme Court Ruling

The United States Supreme Court, last week, reinstated a West Virginia man’s conviction for a violation of Federal Law, which prohibits those convicted of a domestic violence offense from possessing firearms. The Federal Law in question was passed in 1996, and extended the prohibition on firearm possession from convicted felons to those also convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. The case, United States v. Hayes, involved a West Virginia man who had been convicted of a domestic violence offense in 1994, against his then-wife. Ten years later, after the Federal Law had been passed [18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9)], police responded to a complaint of domestic violence at Hayes’ home. Upon search of the home, police found a rifle amongst Hayes’ possessions. Police were also able to determine that within the ten year time-frame, Hayes had owned at least four other firearms.

Hayes’ 1994 conviction was for misdemeanor battery, rather than a specific offense of domestic violence, even though the victim was undoubtedly his wife at the time. Based on this fact, Hayes argued to a United States District Court that the Federal Ban on possession of firearms should not apply to him. The District Court rejected Hayes’ argument and Hayes entered a conditional plea of guilt, preserving the case for appeal. Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed Hayes’ conviction, citing that the Hayes’ conviction for misdemeanor battery was not specific to constitute domestic violence, despite the fact the battery was against his former wife. The Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case, and, reinstated the conviction against Hayes.

The Supreme Court found the definition of misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, as applies to the Federal Statute, to include two elements: the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, and it must be committed by a person with a specified domestic relationship to the victim. The Court held that the statute does not require the prior conviction to specifically apply to an offense of domestic violence, but rather that the Government can prove such a domestic relationship existed in the previous offense, in order to apply the Federal Law in the case at hand. The Court reasoned that requiring a prior offense to be charged specifically as a domestic violence offense would “frustrate Congress’ manifest purpose” in preventing the combination of firearms and the tendency of a person to commit domestic violence.

Domestic Violence is defined as any abusive relationship that results in emotional abuse, physical violence, sexual assault, stalking, assault, and/or threatened violence. Even State Court convictions can have Federal implications. If you have been charged with an offense of domestic violence, or an offense stemming from a prior conviction of such, it is important you contact an experienced and aggressive Criminal Defense Attorney immediately. Such offenses can carry extensive penalties. For a confidential consultation, contact our offices via phone at 215-563-9800, or email at Marc@nefflawoffices.com.