The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-2 in Voisine v. United States [SCOTUSblog materials] that a state law conviction on reckless domestic assault is sufficient to bar possession of a firearm under federal law. Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong had pleaded guilty to violating a Maine statute [text] that makes it a misdemeanor to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause[ ] bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person.” When later investigations revealed that both men were in possession of firearms, they were charged and convicted under a federal law [18 U.S.C. § 922 text] that prohibits any person convicted of “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing firearms and ammunition. On appeal, the petitioners argued that, because their domestic violence convictions were based on recklessness, and not intentional or knowing conduct, they were insufficient to support the federal charge. Focusing on the meaning of “use … physical force,” the Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the convictions. Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan found that
the word “use” does not demand that the person applying force have the purpose or practical certainty that it will cause harm, as compared with the understanding that it is substantially likely to do so. Or, otherwise said, that word is indifferent as to whether the actor has the mental state of intention, knowledge, or recklessness with respect to the harmful consequences of his volitional conduct.
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined in part. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in November and heard oral arguments [JURIST reports] in February.
Gun control [JURIST backgrounder] and the Second Amendment continue to be controversial topics across the US. Last week, Hawaii Governor David Ige signed a bill [JURIST report] requiring gun owners to be listed on an FBI database, notifying police if a Hawaii citizen is arrested in another state and providing a continuous criminal record check on those individuals seeking to possess a firearm. In January US President Barack Obama announced executive actions on gun control [JURIST report]. In November an appellate court in Wisconsin ruled that a state law that prohibits possession of certain knives [JURIST report] violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms.