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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Domestic Abusers Take Gun Case to High Court

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide a case where two convicted domestic abusers have been barred from owning firearms.

In the case at hand, William Armstrong and Stephen Voisine want the high court to clarify precedent that the justices decided in March 2014 with U.S. v. Castleman.

Felons have long been barred from possessing guns, but many perpetrators of domestic violence are convicted only of misdemeanors. In Castleman, the court noted that the crimes of misdemeanant domestica abusers often escalate in severity over time, and the presence of a firearm increases the chances of a homicide.

Congress sought to close this loophole in gun-control laws with Section 922(g)(9) of Title 18 - forbidding the ownership of firearm making it a crime for anyone convicted of "a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."

Federal authorities sought to prosecute James Alvin Castleman under this law, among others, in 2008 based on evidence that he was selling firearms on the black market.

Seven years earlier, Castleman had pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of having "intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to" the mother of his child.

He sought to dismiss the 922(g)(9) charges by claiming that his 2001 conviction lacked use of physical force as an element, meaning that it did not qualify as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence."

A federal judge and the 6th Circuit sided with Castleman, noting that Tennessee's overly broad definition of domestic violence injury includes anything from an abrasion to one requiring medical care.

The Supreme Court reversed unanimously.

In the case that the Supreme Court took up Friday, both men faced federal charges of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm, in violation of Section 911(g)(9) after they were convicted under Maine law of abusing women with reckless intent.

Armstrong was found with six firearms in 2010, just two years after his second conviction for assaulting his wife.

Police found Voisine's rifle after he was arrested in 2009 on a federal charge of killing a bald eagle. Voisine had two convictions for assaulting a domestic partner, as well.

After a federal judge refused to dismiss the firearms charges against them, they conditionally pleaded guilty and were sentenced. The First Circuit affirmed in January.

Armstrong and Voisine want the Supreme Court to decide whether "a misdemeanor crime with the mens rea of recklessness" qualifies as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in taking up their case Friday. The justices noted only that Armstrong and Voisine can proceed in forma pauperis.

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