U.S. v. Castleman
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a Tennessee case about whether one man’s conviction for domestic assault is sufficient to justify him being unable to own a gun. The case, U.S. v. Castleman, will answer the question of whether the state conviction rises to the level needed to qualify under a federal weapon ban.
The case began back in 2001 when James Castleman pleaded guilty to a single count of domestic assault, a misdemeanor under Tennessee law. Under federal law this conviction would prevent him from purchasing firearms. The current federal legislation bans not only the purchase, but also the possession or transportation of guns and ammunition by anyone who has been convicted of even low-level domestic violence.
Years after his guilty plea, federal agents launched an investigation into a murder that took place in Chicago and ended up connecting Castleman and his wife to a scheme that involved running guns on the black market. According to federal investigators, Castleman’s wife would purchase the guns from a legitimate dealer, claiming that she was the one who would use and possess the weapons. However, after filling out the required federal paperwork, the woman would then turn the guns over to her husband who would resell them to others.
The case was taken before a grand jury where Castleman was indicted on two counts of illegal possession of firearms. A federal judge then decided to dismiss the charges, ultimately holding that Castleman’s misdemeanor conviction for domestic assault did not qualify as “domestic violence” under federal law. The federal law required a person be convicted of using or attempting to use violent physical force, something the judge decided did not take place in Castleman’s case.
Castleman’s case then moved on to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the government improperly used Tennessee’s overly broad definition of domestic assault to prevent Castleman from owning a gun. Tennessee’s law included everything from causing an abrasion to requiring hospitalization under the umbrella of domestic assault; something the Sixth Circuit said meant that some offenders were unjustly denied the ability to own guns under the more serious domestic violence provision of federal gun laws.
The Supreme Court will now hear the case and decide whether a conviction for misdemeanor domestic assault in Tennessee qualifies as a conviction for domestic violence under the federal weapons ban.
To read the full opinion from the Sixth Circuit, click here.
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