In November 2013, Second Amendment advocates were angered by a federal district court’s decision to uphold a law that bans for life anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm. The decision stated,
“The government has demonstrated that domestic violence misdemeanants are likely to commit acts of domestic violence again and that, if they do so with a gun, the risk of death to the victim is significantly increased.”
This means that if you have been found guilty of any kind of domestic violence, even if it did not involve the use of a gun, you will not ever been allowed to own another firearm. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to this law, but until then it stands, and it is a perfect example of how domestic violence charges and convictions can carry federal aspects unknown to most defendants.
The Federal Aspects of Your Case
In the midst of the turmoil and chaos of domestic violence, perpetrators are usually only aware of their immediate interactions with local police and pending state charges. But since the 1994 passage of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) and its 2013 reauthorization, the federal government now has more power over local jurisdictions to fight domestic violence. Today, there are plenty of federal aspects to domestic violence that people need to be aware of if they are charged with any form of domestic violence. For example:
- Additional charges may be brought by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) if you brandished a weapon during a domestic altercation.
- Domestic or intimate partner violence that occurs when someone crosses onto Native American reservation lands is prosecuted as a federal crime.
- Under VAWA, your case will fall under federal jurisdiction if you cross state lines and stalk, harass, intimidate, or harm a domestic or intimate partner.
- The Gun Control Act makes it a crime to possess a firearm or ammunition if you are currently subject to a restraining or protective order.
Federal Penalties are Always Tougher
Penalties for federal crimes are almost always more severe than those prosecuted under state or local laws. For example, any federal domestic violence crime is always a felony – never a misdemeanor. VAWA states that for federal domestic violence charges, “terms of imprisonment range from 5 years for bodily injury to life if the crime of violence results in the victim’s death.” This is considerably more severe than the average non-federal prison sentence, even in cases of domestic violence in which men kill women, which is generally only two to six years in prison.
One recent case underscores how what might seem like a localdomestic violence incident can quickly become a federal case. In June 2013, Alvin Leon Roundtree shot his estranged partner following an argument at a medical center located on Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. The FBI is pursuing his case on the grounds that it occurred on federal property, and the case is being prosecuted by an Assistant United States Attorney.Roundtree may face 20 years in prison, significantly more than the average two to six years cited above.
Clearly, domestic violence is always wrong and deserves to be prosecuted. But there are differences between state and federal charges, and defendants should be aware that their crimes may garner much more punishment if any of the charges are federal in nature.
About the Author
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.