(CN) - The Supreme Court agreed to determine whether a Tennessee man's misdemeanor conviction for domestic assault precludes gun ownership under federal law.
James Alvin Castleman pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of domestic assault in 2001. The conviction prohibits him from purchasing firearms under current federal law, which bans the purchase, possession or transportation of guns and ammunition by persons convicted of even low-level domestic violence.
Years later, federal agents investigating a murder in Chicago discovered that Castleman and his wife were running guns on the black market. Under the couple's scheme, Castleman's wife purchased the guns at a legitimate dealer by presenting herself as the purchaser on federal firearms paperwork, and turned the weapons over to her husband for resale.
A grand jury indicted Castleman on two counts of illegal firearms possession. But a federal judge dismissed the charges, finding that Castleman's domestic assault conviction did not qualify as domestic violence requiring "the use or attempted use of physical force" as defined by federal law.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the government improperly used Tennessee's overly-broad definition of domestic violence injury - from an abrasion to one requiring medical care - to keep Castleman from owning a firearm.
"Castleman's indictment does not provide a basis from which we can conclude that his domestic assault conviction entailed violent physical force," the three-judge panel concluded.
In its certiorari petition, the government noted that domestic violence includes any federal, state or tribal misdemeanor offense containing the use or attempted use of physical force. It asked the high court to settle whether Castleman's "Tennessee conviction for misdemeanor domestic assault by intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to the mother of his child qualifies as a conviction for a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" under the weapons ban.
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