WHAT HAPPENED:  The Federal Government has a law that prohibits any person with a domestic violence conviction from owning a firearm.  The specific text of the statute does not specify a mental state, but subsequent cases have held that Federal Courts require a person to exhibit a “knowing or intentional” mental state to be convicted of assault.  The defendants in this case where found to be in possession of guns with past convictions for domestic violence under Maine law.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT:  In the most general of senses, this case is before the Supreme Court over the legal concept of mens rea.  As stated above, federal statutes require that a person convicted of assault have a high mental state, whereas Maine allows a person to be convicted of assault when the mental state is “knowing, intentional, or reckless“.  The addition of “reckless” is key, because that is a lesser mental state than the federal standard.  Defendants therefore argue that the additional lower mental state makes all Maine citizens convicted of assault ineligible for the Federal statute.

In a specific sense, this case is about the Second Amendment and everyone getting frantic about a Justice doing an optional activity with little consequence.  During the oral argument, Justice Thomas asked questions about whether or not it is Constitutional for a misdemeanor conviction to deny someone their Second Amendment rights.  Thomas argument is that mens rea aside, this statute is unconstitutional because it puts an undue burden on a person’s rights to bear arms.

WHAT IS THE RULING?  This case is not yet decided.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS?  Should the defendants win on any grounds, the ramifications are that domestic violence offenders are allowed to possess guns, which is probably bad unless you’ve lost most perspective on gun rights.  Should the State win, you could argue that the federal government’s ability to criminalize conduct is expanded, but this probably applies to only a few States and one specific crime.   In all honesty, this is likely just an example of the Court clearing up an issue with a statute that should have been written more clearly from the onset.

ROOT FOR VOISINE IF:  Seeing the “forest for the trees” is more important than perpetuating domestic violence.

ROOT FOR U.S. IF:  Preferring a “means to an end” is more important than strictly abiding to the Constitution.

  1. Nazim says:

    Judgment: Affirmed, 6-2, in an opinion by Justice Kagan on June 27, 2016. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Sotomayor joined as to Parts I and II.

    Source: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/voisine-v-united-states/


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