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Criminal Law Blog

What Happened in the Recent Supreme Court Decision About Domestic Violence?

July 7, 2016


The Supreme Court recently decided a case in which the issue of gun rights and domestic violence offenders were involved. In Voisine v. U.S., a Maine resident, Mr. Voisine was investigated for shooting wildlife illegally. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement discovered Mr. Voisine had multiple domestic violence misdemeanor convictions. Law enforcement and prosecutors believed Voisine should not have been allowed to have a gun and was a prohibited possessor.

A set of federal laws makes it a crime for certain people to possess firearms and ammunition. The people are convicted felons and convicted domestic violence offenders. The primary statute prohibiting people with domestic violence convictions from owning guns and ammunition is the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment. The Lautenberg Amendment prohibits people from owning guns and and ammunition if they have been convicted of a domestic violence offense which, ” has as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. . .”

The definition of the disqualifying conviction leaves open room for people convicted of domestic violence offenses that seemingly have nothing to with the use or attempted use of physical force. So, for example, criminal damage or violating an order of protection by calling someone on the phone, or criminal trespass where a person is asked to leave and they don’t at first but eventually do leave. What about folks convicted of these kind of seemingly non violent offenses?

Voisine’s lawyer argued that the is a hierarchy of abusive behavior in which some actions should count as domestic violence while others should not and those that do not should not trigger a gun ban. More specifically, the litigants in the case argued that their convictions were for mere reckless behavior and were not the result of intentional behavior and such reckless behavior should not trigger a gun ban. Reckless here means they did it in the heat of the moment and the offense was not planed out and done with a specific planned purpose.

The Supreme Court decided that Voisine should have a gun ban and his distinction between reckless and intentional behavior did not matter when it came to prohibiting owning weapons.

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