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Supreme Court Unanimously Votes to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

By: Jamilah Espinosa

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic violence abusers.  On March 26, 2014, the court announced its decision in United States v. Castleman, ruling in favor of the Obama Administration and advocates for victims of domestic violence, by overturning a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. James Castleman, a resident of Tennessee, had been convicted of assaulting the mother of his child in 2001, and when he faced gun-related charges in 2009, he was also charged with illegal possession because prosecutors argued that his domestic-violence misdemeanor conviction prevented from owning a gun.

Under federal law, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence—defined as involving “physical force”—is banned from possessing a gun. Castleman had pled guilty to the offense of causing “bodily injury” to the mother of his child, but now argued that that crime was not sufficiently “violent” to make him fall under the federal gun ban. The exact nature of the injuries sustained by Castleman’s victim was not articulated in court records.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the court, emphasizing that domestic violence takes varied forms  and that it is a crime that doesn’t always reflect what most people view as “violent,” because it can involve pushing, shoving, scratching, or grabbing. She further emphasized that in many states this type of behavior is prosecuted under battery laws, which meant some courts won’t consider such convictions to be domestic violence. Justice Sotomayor said it was enough that Castleman pleaded guilty to having “intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury to” the mother of this child, further explaining, “because Castleman’s indictment make clear that physical force was an element of his conviction, that conviction qualifies as ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.’” However, the Supreme Court made clear these types of offenses are enough to subject a convicted domestic violence abuse to the federal gun ban.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

Sources:

United States v. Castleman, 572 S.Ct. 1 (2014).

Adam Liptak, Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence, N.Y. Times, Mar. 26, 2014, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/us/justices-view-gun-curbs-broadly-in-domestic-violence-cases.html?_r=0.

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