Saturday, January 25, 2014

Guns and Domestic Violence

In Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Petitioner in US v. Castleman, the authors including professors at Albany law school, argue against a narrow conceptuatlization of domestic violence.

Violence between intimate partners is not exclusively exhibited as physical force or dominance. To permit Congress to address only domestic violence that presents itself as physical abuse alone is at best inept, and at worst, a fatal miscalculation. The Sixth Circuit’s holding on appeal unduly restricts the enforceability of the Gun Control Act (18 U.S.C. § 922) and the Lautenberg Amendment (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)) by limiting the definition of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to assault and battery offenses requiring strong and violent physical force. This limitation permits domestic abusers to possess weapons and endangers the safety of victims, members of law enforcement, and the general public.

An informed, evidence-based understanding of domestic violence encompasses the exertion of power and control, including but not limited to physical violence. For example, the Johns Hopkins University’s “Danger Assessment,” a scientifically tested fatality predictor for women experiencing domestic violence, illustrates that violence between intimate partners appears as dominance and control through various means, such as economic, emotional and psychological abuse. Of its twenty questions, only a few of the assessment’s questions reference physical force.

The Gun Control Act embraces this modern understanding of the crime of domestic violence, acknowledging that the crime is not limited to violent physical force. The plain meaning of the Act and its legislative history fully support a more inclusive application of the firearms restriction – one of the few tools that police and prosecutors have to prevent officer and victim fatalities.

Here are the basic facts of Castleman from Oyez.

Facts of the Case 

In 2001, James Alvin Castleman was charged and pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor domestic assault under the relevant Tennessee statute, which dealt with knowingly or intentionally causing bodily harm to the mother of the defendant’s child. Seven years later, federal agents discovered that Castleman and his wife were buying firearms from dealers and selling them on the black market. Because Castleman’s domestic assault conviction prohibited him from purchasing firearms, Castleman’s wife bought the weapons in her own name. Castleman was indicted in federal district court and charged with two counts of possessing a firearm after being convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The district court dismissed the charges and held that Castleman’s misdemeanor domestic assault conviction under Tennessee law did not constitute the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence as required by the federal statute. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.


Does Castleman’s conviction of misdemeanor domestic assault under Tennessee law constitute a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence under the relevant federal statute?

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