United States v. Hayes
555 U.S. 415 (2009): Victory - Defending Domestic Violence Gun Ban
In 1996, Congress extended the federal Gun Control Act of 1968’s prohibition on possession of a firearm by convicted felons to include persons convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). In United States v. Hayes, police officers discovered a rifle in Hayes’s home when responding to a 911 call reporting domestic violence. Hayes was subsequently charged with possession after having been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
The indictment identified a 1994 conviction for battery against Hayes’s then-wife, in violation of West virginia law. Hayes moved to dismiss the indictment, claiming that the conviction did not qualify as a predicate offense under § 922(g)(9) because West Virginia’s generic battery law did not designate a domestic relationship between aggressor and victim as an element of the offense. The Fourth Circuit held that a § 922(g)(9) predicate offense must have as an element a domestic relationship between offender and victim.
Brady disagreed, and filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Government. There is an undeniable connection between domestic violence arguments ending in the victim’s death and the presence of a firearm in the home, making it crucial that anyone with a domestic violence background be prohibited from firearm possession. Accordingly, we urged the Supreme Court to find that a domestic relationship does not have to be a defining element of the predicate offense in order to be ineligible to possess a firearm.
The Supreme Court agreed with Brady, and held that a domestic relationship need not be a defining element of the predicate offense. In its ruling, the Court cited our amicus brief in construing § 922(g)(9): “Construing § 922(g)(9) to exclude the domestic abuser convicted under a generic use-of-force statutes (one that does not designate a domestic relationship as an element of the offense) would frustrate Congress’ manifest purpose. Firearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination nationwide.”
With this decision, the Supreme Court made critical precedent in protecting one of America’s most vulnerable populations. No matter what the underlying offense, domestic abusers are dangerous persons who should not have the same free access to firearms. We are proud to be a part of this decision to ensure the safety of domestic violence victims and survivors.