Law Hub

Voisine v. United States

Justia Summary

Congress extended the federal prohibition on firearms possession by convicted felons to persons convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9), defining that phrase to include a misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law, committed against a domestic relation that necessarily involves the “use . . . of physical force.” In its 2014 Castleman opinion, the Supreme Court held that a knowing or intentional assault qualifies under section 922(g)(9), but did not address reckless assault. Voisine and Armstrong each pleaded guilty under a Maine law, which makes it a misdemeanor to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause[ ] bodily injury” to another. During later investigations, of Voisine for killing a bald eagle, and of Armstrong, as part of a narcotics investigation, officers discovered that each owned firearms. Both were charged under section 922(g)(9). The First Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed their convictions. A reckless domestic assault qualifies as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under section 922(g)(9); the phrase “use. . . of physical force” does not distinguish between domestic assaults committed knowingly or intentionally and those committed recklessly. Reckless conduct, which requires the conscious disregard of a known risk, is not an accident: It involves a deliberate decision to endanger another. Congress must have known it was sweeping in some persons who had engaged in reckless conduct. That was part of the point: to apply the federal firearms restriction to those abusers, along with all others, covered by the states’ ordinary misdemeanor assault laws.

About Author