Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence" Must Include Element Establishing Relationship Between Defendant & Victim

US v. Hayes: Hayes was convicted of the West Virginia misdemeanor offense of battery in 1994. The victim of the crime was his then-wife, but he was not convicted of domestic battery. In 2005, police responded to a domestic disturbance call at Hayes's home which led to a consensual search of the home. The search uncovered a rifle. Hayes was then charged with possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV), based on the 1994 offense. Hayes moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that his 1994 conviction was not an MCDV, on various grounds. The motion was denied and Hayes entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to raise the issue on appeal.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court, 2-1, holding that Hayes's 1994 conviction was not a MCDV because it did not contain an element regarding the relationship of the victim to the defendant. The court engaged in a lengthy analysis of the statutory language of the MCDV definition, 18 USC 921(a)(33)(A), before concluding that the language of the definition "plainly require[s] that a predicate offense have as an element one of the specific domestic relationships between the offender and the victim." That reading is supported by the "rule of the last antecedent," and is not "demonstrably at odds" with the legislative intent of the statute. In addition, if the statutory language was ambiguous, the Rule of Lenity would require the same outcome. In concluding the opinion, the court noted that this holding was "in the minority." Judge Williams, in her dissent, noted that "we are not in the minority, we are the minority." Judge Williams disagreed with the majority's statutory analysis. In addition, she rejected Hayes's argument (which the majority did not reach) that the Government could not prove the relationship between Hayes and the victim in the 1994 conviction by use of extrinsic evidence, as in Shepard.

Congrats to SDWV CJA panel member Troy Giatras for the big NDWV win.

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