572 U.S. 157 (2014), 12-1371, United States v. Castleman

Docket Nº:12-1371
Citation:572 U.S. 157, 134 S.Ct. 1405, 188 L.Ed.2d 426, 82 U.S.L.W. 4207, 24 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 632
Opinion Judge:Sotomayor, Justice
Party Name:UNITED STATES, Petitioner v. JAMES ALVIN CASTLEMAN
Attorney:Melissa Arbus Sherry argued the cause for petitioner. Charles A. Rothfeld argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment post, p. 173. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, ...
Case Date:March 26, 2014
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page ___

__ U.S. __ (2014)

134 S.Ct. 1405, 188 L.Ed.2d 426, 82 U.S.L.W. 4207

UNITED STATES, PETITIONER

v.

JAMES ALVIN CASTLEMAN

No. 12-1371

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 2014

Argued January 15, 2014

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

[134 S.Ct. 1406] Syllabus [*]

Respondent Castleman moved to dismiss his indictment under 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9), which forbids the possession of firearms by anyone convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." He argued that his previous conviction for "intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] bodily [134 S.Ct. 1407] injury to" the mother of his child, App. 27, did not qualify as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" because it did not involve "the use or attempted use of physical force, " 18 U.S.C. §921(a)(33)(A)(ii). The District Court agreed, reasoning that "physical force" must entail violent contact and that one can cause bodily injury without violent contact, e.g., by poisoning. The Sixth Circuit affirmed on a different rationale. It held that the degree of physical force required for a conviction to constitute a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" is the same as that required for a "violent felony" under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), §924(e)(2)(B)(i)— namely, violent force—and that Castleman could have been convicted for causing slight injury by nonviolent conduct.

Held:

Castleman's conviction qualifies as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." Pp. 1409 – 1416, 188 L.Ed.2d, at 433-440.

(a) Section 922(g)(9)'s "physical force" requirement is satisfied by the degree of force that supports a common-law battery conviction— namely, offensive touching. Congress presumably intends to incorporate the common-law meaning of terms that it uses, and nothing suggests Congress intended otherwise here. The Sixth Circuit relied upon Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1, in which the common-law meaning of "force" was found to be a "comical misfit, " id., at 145, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1, when read into ACCA's "violent felony" definition. But Johnson resolves this case in the Government's favor: The very reasons for rejecting the common-law meaning in Johnson are reasons to embrace it here. First, whereas it was "unlikely" that Congress meant to incorporate in ACCA's "violent felony" definition "a phrase that the common law gave peculiar meaning only in its definition of a misdemeanor, " id., at 141, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1, it is likely that Congress meant to incorporate the misdemeanor-specific meaning of "force" in defining a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." Second, whereas the word "violent" or "violence" standing alone "connotes a substantial degree of force, " id., at 140, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1, that is not true of "domestic violence, " which is a term of art encompassing acts that one might not characterize as "violent" in a nondomestic context. Third, whereas this Court has hesitated to apply ACCA to "crimes which, though dangerous, are not typically committed by those whom one normally labels 'armed career criminals, '" Begay v. United States, 553 U.S. 137, 146, 128 S.Ct. 1581, 170 L.Ed.2d 490, there is no anomaly in grouping domestic abusers convicted of generic assault or battery offenses together with others whom §922(g) disqualifies from gun ownership. In addition, a contrary reading would have made §922(g)(9) inoperative in at least ten States when it was enacted. Pp. 1409 -1413, 188 L.Ed.2d, at 433-437.

(b) Under this definition of "physical force, " Castleman's conviction qualifies as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." The application of the modified categorical approach—consulting Castleman's state indictment to determine whether his conviction entailed the elements necessary to constitute the generic federal offense—is straightforward. Castleman pleaded guilty to "intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] bodily injury to" the mother of his child, and the knowing or intentional causation of bodily injury necessarily involves the use of physical force. First, a "bodily injury" must result from "physical force." The common-law concept of "force" encompasses even its indirect application, making it impossible to cause bodily injury without applying force in the common-law sense. Second, the knowing or intentional application of force is a "use" of force. Leocal v. Ashcroft, [134 S.Ct. 1408] 543 U.S. 1, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271, distinguished. Pp. 1413 – 1415, 188 L.Ed.2d, at 437-439.

(c) Castleman claims that legislative history, the rule of lenity, and the canon of constitutional avoidance weigh against this Court's interpretation of §922 (g)(9), but his arguments are unpersuasive. Pp. 1415-1416, 188 L.Ed.2d, at 439-440.

695 F.3d 582, reversed and remanded.

Melissa Arbus Sherry, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Charles A. Rothfeld. Washington. DC, for Respondent.

Steven L. West, West & West Attorneys, Huntingdon, TN, Eugene R. Fidell, New Haven, CT, Charles A. Rothfeld, Counsel of Record, Andrew J. Pincus, Paul W. Hughes, Michael B. Kimberb, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, DC. for Respondent.

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., Solicitor General, Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Melissa Arbus Sherry. Assistant to the Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Joseph C. Wyderko, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined.

OPINION

SOTOMAYOR JUSTICE

Recognizing that "[f]irearms and domestic strife are a potentially deadly combination, " United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415, 427, 129 S.Ct. 1079, 172 L.Ed.2d 816 (2009), Congress forbade the possession of firearms by anyone convicted of "a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9). The respondent, James Alvin Castleman, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of having "intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to" the mother of his child. App. 27. The question before us is whether this conviction qualifies as "a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." We hold that it does.

I

A

This country witnesses more than a million acts of domestic violence, and hundreds of deaths from domestic violence, each year.1 See Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 117-118, 126 S.Ct. 1515, 164 L.Ed.2d 208 (2006). Domestic violence often escalates in severity over time, see Brief for Major Cities Chiefs Association et al. as Amici Curiae 13-15; Brief for National Network to End Domestic Violence et al. as Amici Curiae 9-12, and the presence of a firearm increases the likelihood that it will escalate to homicide, see id., at 14-15; Campbell et al., Assessing [134 S.Ct. 1409] Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Homicide, DOJ, Nat. Institute of Justice J., No. 250, p. 16 (Nov. 2003) ("When a gun was in the house, an abused woman was 6 times more likely than other abused women to be killed"). "[A] 11 too often, " as one Senator noted during the debate over §922(g)(9), "the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun." 142 Cong. Rec. 22986 (1996) (statement of Sen. Wellstone).

Congress enacted §922(g)(9), in light of these sobering facts, to "'close [a] dangerous loophole'" in the gun control laws: While felons had long been barred from possessing guns, many perpetrators of domestic violence are convicted only of misdemeanors. Hayes, 555 U.S., at 418, 426, 129 S.Ct. 1079, 172 L.Ed.2d 816. Section 922(g)(9) provides, as relevant, that any person "who has been convicted .. of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" may not "possess in or affecting commerc[e] any firearm or ammunition." With exceptions that do not apply here, the statute defines a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" as

"an offense that .. (i) is a misdemeanor under Federal, State, or Tribal law; and (ii) has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, 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 cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim." §921(a)(33)(A).

This case concerns the meaning of one phrase in this definition: "the use . . . of physical force."

B

In 2001, Castleman was charged in a Tennessee court with having "intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to" the mother of his child, in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. §39-13-lll(b) (Supp. 2002). App. 27. He pleaded guilty. Id., at 29.

In 2008, federal authorities learned that Castleman was selling firearms on the black market. A grand jury in the Western District of Tennessee indicted him on two counts of violating §922(g)(9) and on other charges not relevant here. Id., at 13-16.

Castleman moved to dismiss the §922(g)(9) charges, arguing that his Tennessee conviction did not qualify as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" because it did not "ha[ve], as an element, the use . . . of physical force, " §921(a)(33)(A)(ii). The District Court agreed, on the theory that "the 'use of physical force' for §922(g)(9) purposes" must entail "violent contact with the victim." App. to Pet. for Cert. 40a. The court held that a conviction under the relevant Tennessee statute cannot qualify as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" because one can cause bodily...

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