U.S. v. Meade, No. 98-1905

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
Writing for the CourtSELYA
Citation175 F.3d 215
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Christopher MEADE, Defendant, Appellant. . Heard
Decision Date06 April 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-1905

Page 215

175 F.3d 215
UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
v.
Christopher MEADE, Defendant, Appellant.
No. 98-1905.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Heard April 6, 1999.
Decided May 11, 1999.

Page 217

Leo T. Sorokin, Federal Defender Office, for appellant.

Jennifer Zacks, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Donald K. Stern, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before: Selya, Boudin and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This appeal requires us to address questions of first impression concerning the construction and constitutionality of two recently-enacted federal firearms laws, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8) and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), both of which were intended to help curb the escalating societal problems associated with domestic violence. We conclude that these statutory provisions withstand the appellant's vigorous challenge.

I

In the early morning hours of May 16, 1997, defendant-appellant Christopher Meade began pounding on the door of his estranged wife's apartment in Lynn, Massachusetts, threatening to shoot her. When police arrived, they discovered a number of persons, including Meade himself, gathered outside the dwelling. The officers instructed all those at the scene to lie face down and display their hands. Instead of obeying, Meade crouched by the side of a parked car and thrust his hand into it. The police later retrieved a loaded handgun from the automobile. Neither the handgun nor the ammunition had been manufactured in Massachusetts.

A recently-enacted federal law makes it a crime for a person who is subject to a judicial anti-harassment or anti-stalking order to possess firearms that have been shipped or transported in interstate commerce. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8) (quoted infra note 3). Another recently-enacted federal law makes it a crime for a person who has committed a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" to possess such a

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weapon. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). Meade ran afoul of both proscriptions: on May 16, 1997, he had a prior misdemeanor conviction for assaulting his spouse, and he was subject to a state court restraining order, issued pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, prohibiting contact with her. Consequently, the United States charged Meade with having violated sections 922(g)(8) and (9). A jury found him guilty on both counts and the district court imposed a 78-month incarcerative sentence. Meade now appeals.
II

Defying numerical order, we start with 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). In relevant part, this statute renders it "unlawful for any person ... who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" to possess "any firearm or ammunition ... which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce." The appellant, whose only potential predicate offense is a misdemeanor conviction under a general assault and battery statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 13A, claims that the district court erred in treating that conviction as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" within the purview of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9).

The linguistic hook upon which Meade fastens this claim appears in an ancillary definitional statute, 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33)(A), which characterizes a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" as an offense that is a misdemeanor under state law, see id. § 921(a)(33)(A)(i), and which "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," id. § 921(a)(33)(A)(ii). Meade acknowledges that his prior conviction satisfies the first criterion (i.e., it was for a misdemeanor), but insists that it fails to satisfy the second criterion because the underlying statute does not have as an element the relationship status between misdemeanant and victim. As the appellant sees it, the only crimes that fit within the quoted language (and, thus, the only crimes that may serve as predicate offenses for purposes of section 922(g)(9)) are those which, as part of their formal definition, require a showing of both the mode of aggression (e.g., the use of a weapon) and the assailant's relationship status (e.g., spouse). The district court rejected this exercise in statutory interpretation, see United States v. Meade, 986 F.Supp. 66, 68 (D.Mass.1997), and so do we.

Meade's argument depends on the answer to the following question: Did Congress intend that only misdemeanors which include the relationship status as an element within their formal definition would count as predicate offenses under section 922(g)(9)? Our search for this answer must begin with the language that Congress used in crafting the statutory scheme. See United States v. Charles George Trucking Co., 823 F.2d 685, 688 (1st Cir.1987). That perspective focuses our attention on the word "element" in the text of section 921(a)(33)(A)(ii). This singular noun is followed not by one, but by two conceptually distinct attributes: the mode of aggression and the perpetrator's relationship to the victim. Meade's gloss on the reach of the word "element" indiscriminately conflates the two.

We reject this gloss. In construing statutes, courts should presume, absent contrary evidence, that Congress knew, and meant to adopt, the background legal concepts associated with the words that it chose to incorporate into a law. See Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 263, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288 (1952); Greenwood Trust Co. v. Massachusetts, 971 F.2d 818, 827 (1st Cir.1992). The word "element" fits into this category. It is singular,

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and, absent evidence that Congress wished to deviate from customary usage, it should be read to refer only to the immediately following attribute. Since no such evidence exists, we conclude, without serious question, that only the mode of aggression, not the relationship status between perpetrator and victim, must appear within the formal definition of an antecedent misdemeanor to constitute it as a predicate offense.

We could well end our interpretive inquiry at this juncture. When, as now, the plain language of a statute unambiguously reveals its meaning, and the revealed meaning is not eccentric, courts need not consult other aids to statutory construction. See Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S. 52, 118 S.Ct. 469, 474, 139 L.Ed.2d 352 (1997); Charles George Trucking, 823 F.2d at 688. From time to time, however, courts (perhaps manifesting a certain institutional insecurity) employ such secondary sources as a means of confirmation. See, e.g., Negonsott v. Samuels, 507 U.S. 99, 106-09, 113 S.Ct. 1119, 122 L.Ed.2d 457 (1993); Mullin v. Raytheon Co., 164 F.3d 696, 702-03 (1st Cir.1999); Barker v. United States Dep't of Labor, 138 F.3d 431, 436 (1st Cir.1998). In this instance, such an exercise removes any lingering doubt.

The statute's legislative history is particularly helpful in this regard. In describing the interrelationship between section 922(g)(9) and other gun-control laws on the Senate floor, the legislation's chief sponsor noted presciently that "convictions for domestic violence-related crimes often are for crimes, such as assault, that are not explicitly identified as related to domestic violence." 142 Cong. Rec. S11878 (1996) (statement of Sen. Lautenberg). For this reason, he urged local law enforcement authorities administering gun registration provisions "to thoroughly investigate misdemeanor convictions on an applicant's criminal record to ensure that none involves domestic violence, before allowing the sale of a handgun." Id. These statements, made by the principal architect of the bill before final passage, clearly demonstrate Congress's threshold understanding that "misdemeanor crime[s] of domestic violence" would not be limited to those in which the relationship status was included as a formal element of the statute of conviction.

There are, of course, limitations on the extent to which courts appropriately may rely on the statements of individual legislators to color the meaning of statutory language. See, e.g., Regan v. Wald, 468 U.S. 222, 237, 104 S.Ct. 3026, 82 L.Ed.2d 171 (1984). Withal, contemporaneous statements by a sponsor, although far from conclusive, are generally entitled to respect. See North Haven Bd. of Educ. v. Bell, 456 U.S. 512, 526-27, 102 S.Ct. 1912, 72 L.Ed.2d 299 (1982); FEA v. Algonquin SNG, Inc., 426 U.S. 548, 564, 96 S.Ct. 2295, 49 L.Ed.2d 49 (1976). Moreover, in analyzing legislative history, specificity breeds credibility; thus, particularized explanations of how specific provisions of an act are meant to work have been deemed more instructive than generalized pronouncements anent statutory purpose. See Regan, 468 U.S. at 237, 104 S.Ct. 3026 (recognizing that statements made in floor debates may be persuasive as to Congress's intent when they are "very precisely directed to the intended meaning of particular words in a statute"). The statements we have quoted are of this genre. Perhaps most important, Senator Lautenberg's comments are perfectly consistent with the statutory language and the general purpose of the legislation, and promote a logically and linguistically coherent exegesis of the provision here at issue. They therefore reinforce the construction to which we are led by the plain meaning of the statutory text. See Brock v. Pierce County, 476 U.S. 253, 263, 106 S.Ct. 1834, 90 L.Ed.2d 248 (1986) (noting that statements in floor debates evidence legislative intent when they are consistent with statutory language and other legislative history).

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We note, too, that plain language can be made more (or less) compelling by a frank consideration of possible alternatives....

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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
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    ...5 214 n. 7 (1st Cir.2009) (discussing source of Congress's power to outlaw transmission of child pornography); United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215, 224-25 (1st Cir.1999) (discussing source of Congress's power to criminalize possession of a firearm by one subject to an anti-harassment A cer......
  • State v. Schmidt, No. 69741-8
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    • May 17, 2001
    ...75, 76, 952 P.2d 313 (Ct.App.1997). See also United States v. Meade, 986 F.Supp. 66, 69 (D.Mass.1997) (listing federal cases), aff'd, 175 F.3d 215 (1st Cir.1999); People v. Mesce, 52 Cal.App.4th 618, 623, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 745 (1997) (listing California cases). As the California Court of Appea......
  • Mr. I. ex rel. L.I. v. Me. Sch. Admn. Dist. No. 55, No. 06-1368.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • March 5, 2007
    ...own definition 480 F.3d 15 of the term, however, its appearance in other acts of Congress is of little moment. See United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215, 220-21 (1st Cir.1999). Putting aside the difference between the legislative goals of the IDEA and these other acts, then, the IDEA simply ......
  • United States v. Acosta-ColóN, Nos. 10–1076
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • December 18, 2013
    ...F.3d 237, 246 n. 2 (1st Cir.2012) (noting that arguments raised for the first time on appeal are deemed waived); United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215, 223–24 (1st Cir.1999) (same). Hoping to avoid this logic, Acosta faintly intimates a slight whisper of a suggestion that Ríos's objection pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
129 cases
  • U.S. v. Volungus, No. 09-1596.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 8, 2010
    ...5 214 n. 7 (1st Cir.2009) (discussing source of Congress's power to outlaw transmission of child pornography); United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215, 224-25 (1st Cir.1999) (discussing source of Congress's power to criminalize possession of a firearm by one subject to an anti-harassment A cer......
  • State v. Schmidt, No. 69741-8
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • May 17, 2001
    ...75, 76, 952 P.2d 313 (Ct.App.1997). See also United States v. Meade, 986 F.Supp. 66, 69 (D.Mass.1997) (listing federal cases), aff'd, 175 F.3d 215 (1st Cir.1999); People v. Mesce, 52 Cal.App.4th 618, 623, 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 745 (1997) (listing California cases). As the California Court of Appea......
  • Mr. I. ex rel. L.I. v. Me. Sch. Admn. Dist. No. 55, No. 06-1368.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • March 5, 2007
    ...own definition 480 F.3d 15 of the term, however, its appearance in other acts of Congress is of little moment. See United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215, 220-21 (1st Cir.1999). Putting aside the difference between the legislative goals of the IDEA and these other acts, then, the IDEA simply ......
  • United States v. Acosta-ColóN, Nos. 10–1076
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • December 18, 2013
    ...F.3d 237, 246 n. 2 (1st Cir.2012) (noting that arguments raised for the first time on appeal are deemed waived); United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215, 223–24 (1st Cir.1999) (same). Hoping to avoid this logic, Acosta faintly intimates a slight whisper of a suggestion that Ríos's objection pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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