Court decision further protects victims

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

On June 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Voisine et al. vs. United States (579 U.S. __(2016), that a domestic assault committed recklessly constitutes a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” as set forth in 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9).  Because of this inclusion, anyone who is convicted of domestic violence based on reckless behavior, in addition to knowing or intentional behavior, also is prohibited from owning and possessing a firearm (pursuant to the same law). This decision will eliminate possible exceptions that convicted abusers may try to use to get around the prohibition of owning a gun.

The two petitioners, Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence crimes in 2004 and 2008, respectively.  Both petitioners were convicted of their crime in Maine, and both did not end their trouble with the law after their assaults. Voisine killed a bald eagle, which led police to uncover the fact that he owned a rifle. Armstrong was later part of a narcotics investigation, which uncovered six guns in his house, along with plenty of ammo. 

Due to the fact that both men had misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, they were charged with violating the firearms prohibition under §922(g)(9).  Being creative criminals, they decided to argue that their convictions “could have been based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct.”  The lower courts rejected their claims, which the men appealed jointly (Birds of a feather…).

In United States vs. Castleman, 572 U.S.__ (2014), the Supreme Court had examined the meaning of “use of force” when the conviction was based on an intentional or knowing assault.  When Castleman was decided, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s judgments for both men, and required that the lower court take into account the new ruling in Castleman.  However, the Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion and would not overturn either conviction.

The Voisine ruling noted that “[n]othing in the word ‘use’…indicates that §922(g)(9) applies exclusively to knowing or intentional domestic assaults.”  If it did, considering that “two-thirds of such state laws extend to recklessness, construing §922(g)(9) to exclude crimes committed with that state of mind would substantially undermine the provision’s design.” 

Regardless of how one commits the assault, he or she is using force, which in turn subjects the abuser to the gun prohibition as set forth in §922(g)(9).  Voisine will provide further protection to victims of domestic violence by no longer putting guns in the hands of abusers, a common sense product of a Supreme Court decision.

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The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com. 

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