Federal Prohibited Possessor Laws Expanded

Federal law prohibits certain categories of individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms. Some of these categories (felons, fugitives from justice) might be familiar to you. Others (individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders), may not be.

On Monday, June 27, the United States Supreme Court, in Voisine v. United States, 579 U.S. ___ (2016) expanded the reach of one of these categories of prohibited possessors. This expansion makes Arizonans convicted of misdemeanor assault, ARS § 13-1203(a)(1), a charge we see all the time here at the firm, prohibited possessors under federal law. It also subjects them to prosecution under the federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). Convictions under this statute can result in a prison term of ten years. 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(2). Got a gun? Been convicted? Watch out.

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) prohibits any person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing a firearm. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). “Misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is defined to include any misdemeanor committed against a domestic relation that necessarily involves the “use…of physical force.” 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(A). The question answered by Voisine was “whether misdemeanor assault convictions for reckless (as contrasted to knowing or intentional) conduct trigger the statutory firearms ban.” 579 U.S. __ (2016). That is, is a conviction under a State statute which makes it a misdemeanor to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause physical injury to another person enough to trigger the federal firearms ban? The Voisine Court answered that question in the affirmative.

The Court dismissed the petitioners arguments, who claimed because their Maine assault charges “could have been based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct,” they were not subject to § 922(g)(9)’s prohibition. Id. Justice Kagan, writing for the Court, made irrelevant the distinction between a knowing, intentional, or reckless assault, noting: “Congress defined [misdemeanor crime of domestic violence] to include crimes that necessarily involve the ‘use of physical force. §921(a)(33)(A). Reckless assaults, no less than the knowing or intentional ones…satisfy that definition.” Id.

The Voisine decision has major ramifications for Arizonans; the Arizona statute, A.R.S. § 13-1203(a)(1), is one, like the statute at issue in Voisine, which makes it a misdemeanor to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” cause any physical injury to another person. Moreover, previous to Voisine, the the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rule that a conviction for a reckless domestic assault does not trigger §922(g)(9)’s ban was controlling. No longer. Individuals convicted of this Arizona statute for an assault against a domestic relation, after Voisine, are now prohibited possessors.

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Michael Harwin

About Michael Harwin

Michael’s skill and experience have been recognized repeatedly. He holds an A-V 5/5 preeminent rating by Martindale Hubbell. He has been named one of the top lawyers in Arizona by Southwest Superlawyers, and one of the best lawyers in Tucson by Tucson Lifestyle Magazine. He also has been named one of the best lawyers in the United States by BestofUS.com , and given the highest rating possible by AVVO, 10/10 Superb. Amazon Books