It isn’t every day that a Family Law issue makes it all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Last month, however, the Court issued a decision in United States v. Hayes that could have a far-reaching impact on Domestic Relations and Criminal Law in Ohio and elsewhere. A lot of people realize that Federal law prohibits anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm or ammunition. But now, after the Hayes decision, many more people are barred from possessing a firearm or even ammunition!
The Court’s decision in Hayes makes it so that an individual can be convicted of the Federal weapons prohibition statute even without having been convicted of a crime of domestic violence. Most domestic violence laws are written in a manner that one of the requirements necessary to convict is proof that there was a “domestic relationship”. There are many other crimes of violence where a “domestic relationship” between the defendant and victim is not an element for a conviction. The Supreme Court held that a “domestic relationship, although it must be established beyond a reasonable doubt in a § 922(g)(9) firearms possession prosecution, need not be a defining element of the predicate offense.” In layman’s terms, this means that individuals who have been convicted of any misdemeanor crime of violence against a family or household member who subsequently possesses a gun (or even ammunition), risk facing a Federal charge for having them. It doesn’t even matter if the misdemeanor charge was silent as to the nature of the relationship with the victim.
A crime of violence is defined as “the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon.” The domestic relationship is made up of “a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim…[and] a person with whom the victim shares a child in common…[or] a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.” The essential elements of this Federal Firearm Prohibition offense can be viewed by clicking here.
The reason that this interpretation by the Supreme Court may have a far-reaching impact is that there are people in Ohio, and other states, who may have been convicted of a misdemeanor violation but never suspected that they are prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition by Federal law. Many people may have entered a guilty or no contest pleas to a crime of violence in exchange for not being charged with domestic violence. So if you were convicted of battery or assault, or any other crime of violence against a family member as defined above, you cannot possess a firearm or ammunition under the holding in Hayes.
As long as the United States Attorney can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you have such a conviction and prove a domestic relationship, you are subject to this ban and risk prosecution. If you are in doubt whether you might be barred from possessing a gun/ammunition under federal law, you should consult an attorney promptly for legal advice before either maintaining possession of, or obtaining a firearm or ammunition. And for those of you out there who believe that you have an absolute right to bear firearms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution, you don’t. Restrictions on the ability to possess a firearm and ammunition have been upheld as long as they are reasonable in courts all across the United States.
To read the entire opinion of the Supreme Court in United States v. Hayes click here.
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