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Supreme Court Strengthens Federal Domestic Violence Gun Law

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court has beefed up a federal law preventing domestic violence convicts from possessing a gun, even if there was no proof of actual "violence" or injury.

In a unanimous decision, the High Court ruled last week that the federal ban applied even to those domestic violence convicts who had pleaded guilty without there being evidence of physical abuse, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote this opinion for the Court, which may close a loophole that had existed in federal law for almost 20 years.

No Firearm Possession After Domestic Violence Conviction

The High Court's decision in U.S. v. Castleman followed a review of the federal law that makes it illegal for those with domestic violence convictions to possess a firearm. Subsection (g)(9) of 18 USC 922 forbids possessing a firearm for any person convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."

Since most domestic violence convictions occur in state courts, federal courts are often left to determine whether a state court conviction qualifies as an eligible conviction under the federal law. Convictions can occur when a defendant is found guilty by a judge or jury, or even when he or she accepts a plea bargain. Remember, even no contest pleas can result in a conviction for domestic violence.

In the case at bar, the Supreme Court determined that a Tennessee man who pleaded guilty to "causing bodily injury" to his child's mother fell under the federal law -- even though the man insisted there was no evidence of "physical violence." As Justice Sotomayor explained for the Court, domestic violence encompasses many smaller acts that may not be considered violent outside the domestic context.

Loophole Closed

Part of the reason the High Court agreed with a broader interpretation of this federal gun law was because it felt Congress had intended to distinguish domestic violence convicts from violent felons. The definition of a violent felony was determined by the Supreme Court to involve "violent force," but the same is not necessary for misdemeanor domestic violence.

In terms of domestic violence, the common law definition of battery is more appropriate -- any non-consensual offensive touching. The High Court's broader definition would prohibit domestic violence offenders who abuse family members from possessing weapons -- even if their touching (slaps, pushing, spitting, etc.) did not rise to the level of a violent felony.

Domestic violence victims can call this unanimous decision a win.

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