SCOTUS Ruling - Gun Rights Are Lost Following Domestic Assault Convictions

The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled in Voisine v. United States that a reckless domestic assault is considered a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. This is significant because the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment bans firearm possession for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

The case itself is concerned with the defendant’s mens rea, Latin for “guilty mind.” This refers to the defendant’s level of intent in committing a crime. In that case, “reckless” refers to a mens rea that acts while consciously disregards the risk posed by the action. A good example of recklessness is a drunk driver whose actions result in death. In the circumstances of domestic assault, we might similarly envision drunkenness or some other form of intoxication that leads to violence.

Voisine made headlines when Justice Clarence Thomas asked his first question in 10 years on the bench. When the prosecution was ready to close, he asked simply and poignantly whether any other misdemeanor violation can suspend a constitutional right. Up until this juncture, the case had been deliberated without raising the constitutional question: whether a misdemeanor domestic assault resulting in a lifetime ban is a reasonable regulation of guns under the Second Amendment. In accordance with the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, which dictates that the Court should not rule on a constitutional basis if it can be avoided, the Court left this question for another day. The fact that Justice Thomas raise this issue, though, may point to a fact that the SCOTUS considers this an excessive collateral consequence following a domestic assault conviction.

This case further bears out this undeniable truth – it is critical to get an experienced domestic assault attorney to fight for you. Not only are the criminal consequences significant, but the collateral consequences – most notably a lifetime ban of your federal firearms rights – are almost more burdensome to some individuals.