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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

United States v. Hayes - Domestic Battery Not an Element Under 922(g)(9)

Following a conditional guilty plea, Hayes was convicted of possession of a firearm after having previously been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(9) and 924(a)(2). Section 922(g)(9) makes it a crime for any person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" to possess a firearm. He was sentenced to five years of probation, including six months of home detention with electronic monitoring. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the indictment must be dismissed because it failed to allege that Hayes’ state misdemeanor battery conviction was based on an offense that has as an element a domestic relationship between the offender and the victim. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding that although domestic relationship is something that the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt as part of its firearms possession prosecution under §922(g)(9), domestic relationship need not be a defining element of the predicate misdemeanor offense. Mr. Hayes’ predicate conviction was for battery on his common law wife. Although the domestic relationship was present, it was not an element of the battery offense under the applicable state law. The Supreme Court pointed out that the federal law was intended to close a loophole in the original act that allowed convicted domestic abusers to keep firearms since those convictions were typically misdemeanors.