What the Supreme Court’s Latest Decision Means for People Accused of Domestic Violence
A domestic violence charge can have a long-lasting impact on someone who has been falsely accused of hurting a spouse, domestic partner, or family member. In their zeal to protect genuine victims of abuse, federal and state legislators have passed a number of laws designed to take away basic civil liberties from individuals convicted of even misdemeanor acts classified as “domestic violence.”
“Reckless” Conduct Can Trigger Federal Gun Ban
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision illustrates how the taint of a domestic violence conviction can impact the accused even years after the fact. While domestic violence is normally a state matter, there are a number of federal laws that impose additional penalties upon anyone convicted of certain offenses. In this case, the Supreme Court addressed a federal law that prohibits anyone convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from owning any type of firearm.
The Court actually heard two appeals from individuals who were previously convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in the State of Maine. In one appeal, a man pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend in 2004. Many years later, federal officials investigated the same man over allegations he killed a bald eagle. During this investigation, agents discovered that the man owned a rifle, which led to him being charged for illegal possession of a firearm.
Under Maine law, misdemeanor domestic violence includes any conduct that “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causes bodily injury to another. Before the Supreme Court, the Maine defendants argued their prior domestic violence convictions could have been for “reckless” conduct, as opposed to “intentional” or “knowing” conduct. So the question for the Court was whether or not “reckless” conduct qualified as “misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence” under the federal gun law.
A majority of the court held that it did. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the Court, noted that to interpret the law as proposed by the defendants here would render the federal gun ban “broadly inoperative in the 35 jurisdictions with assault laws extending to recklessness.” Justice Kagan said the Court would not “jeopardize” the law.
But in dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, argued that a qualifying domestic violence conviction includes the “use of physical force,” which the Maine law does not require. “By criminalizing all reckless conduct,” Justice Thomas explained, “the Maine statute captures conduct such as recklessly injuring a passenger by texting while driving resulting in a crash.” In other words, it is possible for someone to be convicted of domestic violence under state law without using “physical force” as defined by federal law.
Have You Been Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence?
Justice Thomas’ objections notwithstanding, the Supreme Court’s decision demonstrates how any domestic violence allegation, regardless of the underlying circumstances, can have far-reaching consequences. That is why if you or a family member have been falsely accused of domestic violence, it is imperative you seek legal advice from someone who understands the law. If you need to speak with a qualified Miami domestic violence defense attorney, contact the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos today.