March 26, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinion

United States v Castleman

Castleman was charged under 18 USC 922(g)(9) as a domestic violence misdemeanant in possession of firearms. He argued his Tennessee conviction did not qualify as a domestic violence misdemeanor. The district court accepted the argument and dismissed. The 6th Circuit affirmed. The Court, with three justices concurring in judgment in two separate opinions, reversed and remanded. The majority held that the common law meaning of “violence’ as use of force or offensive touching applied here as domestic violence cases are routinely prosecuted under general assault statues, domestic violence does not connote significant violence and not using the common law definition would have rendered the firearm ban inapplicable in 10 states covering 30% of the country’s population. Applying the categorical approach to the divisible Tennessee statute, the court held the Tennessee conviction qualified under (g)(9) as the statute requires bodily injury which is common law force and intentional violence is a use of force. The majority rejected arguments based on legislative history holding the history did not overcome the plain language of the text. Justice Scalia concurred on the grounds that the definitions of violent felony and misdemeanor crime of domestic violence are similar and should be construed as meaning the same thing namely force is violent force. He rejected the majority’s analysis arguing that the common law presumption had no place here as (g)(9) was patterned after the violent felony statute, there is no reason to construe a statue to apply as far as possible and domestic violence is form of violence which requires force. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred in judgment arguing eh violent force case was wrongly decided and should not apply here.

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