In California, a conviction for battery carries an automatic 10-year firearm restriction. This means that a person convicted of battery cannot own, possess, or have in their control, a firearm or ammunition, for 10 years, starting from the date of their conviction. A firearm includes a device used to expel a projectile through chemical combustion. It does not require, however, that the firearm be operable.
A variety of California domestic violence offenses carry an automatic lifetime prohibition from owning/possessing a firearm. For instance, Pen. Code, § 243(e)(1) and Pen. Code, § 273.5(a) mandates a lifetime prohibition from owning or possessing a firearm under California law.
Similarly, the federal government will also restrict firearm possession and ownership if the offender is convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A misdemeanor is the charge level below a felony that carries a maximum punishment of 1 year in jail. A crime of domestic violence is any crime involving an element of the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threat of a deadly weapon, and there exists some form of familial relationship between the victim and the offender.
Specifically, the offense must have been committed by “a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”
Assume the defendant struck his wife during an argument. The defendant would be charged with domestic battery under California law. A conviction for domestic battery will prohibit the defendant from owning or possessing a firearm for life under both California and federal law.
But what if the defendant, through plea negotiations, manages to plead to a lesser offense of simple battery, and not domestic battery? The abstract of conviction will only state what the conviction is for, and not to whom it was committed against. Under California law, the offender may be able to restore their firearm rights after a 10-year period. However, will the offender face a lifetime restriction under federal law?
The U.S. Supreme Court answered this very question in United States v Hayes, 555 U.S. 415 (2009). There, Randy Hayes pled guilty to a misdemeanor battery offense after striking his wife. 10 years later, police responded to Hayes' home after receiving a domestic violence call. While conducting a search of the premises the police discovered a rifle. Hayes was subsequently charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person in federal court due to his prior misdemeanor battery conviction. Hayes argued that his prior misdemeanor battery conviction did not disqualify him from possessing a firearm since the conviction was not for “domestic battery,” but simple battery. He was convicted by guilty plea and subsequently appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court addressed whether under the Gun Control Act of 1968, does a conviction for misdemeanor battery constitute a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” when the victim was the offender's wife and the predicate offense statute did not designate a “domestic relationship” between the offender and the victim as an element of the crime?
In other words, the statute simple battery makes no mention of any “domestic relationship,” and it can be committed against any person regardless of any relationship.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion holding that, under Hayes' case, his prior conviction for simple battery did constitute a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The Court held that the predicate offense need not include the existence of a “domestic relationship” as an element of the crime in order to qualify as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”
To put it in easier terms, if the factual basis for the simple misdemeanor battery conviction was against a victim listed above, then the conviction will disqualify an offender from owning or possessing a firearm for life.
If you have been charged or are under investigation for a federal crime, then contact our office to schedule a consultation with an experienced federal crimes defense attorney.