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US Supreme Court holds tight on gun ban after domestic conviction

The United States Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that federal law prohibits a person convicted of domestic abuse -- even in the absence of violence -- may not possess a gun. The decision effectively overrules a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appellate court had previously ruled that the federal law barring people convicted of domestic violence applied to crimes involving the “violent use of force,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The recent high court decision says that the federal ban applies to any domestic violence conviction -- even misdemeanor state court convictions.

Generally, decisions of the Ninth Circuit are binding on federal courts chambered in California, unless the Supreme Court decides the issue. The justices voted unanimously to overturn a lower court order from the Midwest. The lower court had thrown out gun charges brought against a man based upon a prior misdemeanor domestic abuse conviction. The lower court had found no evidence of violent contact with the victim in the underlying conviction.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court in the unanimous decision, says that Congress expanded the federal ban to misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. She says that domestic violence is a legal term with significance. Her opinion states that misdemeanor domestic violence may involve “pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting," in a domestic setting, according to the Times.

The high court ruling did not include Second Amendment issues. However, as we discussed in December, the Ninth Circuit says that the Second Amendment right to bear arms issue is not without limitation related to domestic violence convictions.

Misdemeanor domestic violence allegations can be serious matters. Even if a charge involves allegations of a shoving match, the impact of a conviction can extend well beyond the initial criminal case. Domestic violence allegations can be an issue in family court in California. Child custody disputes may be complicated by a domestic abuse issue.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Supreme Court keeps guns away from those guilty of domestic violence,” David G. Savage, March 26, 2014

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