Can A Messy Divorce Affect Your Ability To Serve And Protect?

U.S. v. Hayes, Gun Possession, and Domestic Litigation

Clients who are in law enforcement, the military, airline pilots, security, or work in the gun/sporting goods industry are now at greater risk of losing their right to possess a firearm, and potentially their employment, than previously.


by Richard J. Coffee, II, Litigation Manager – Illinois Offices, Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court has clarified the scope of the Federal law which prohibits gun ownership by persons convicted of misdemeanor crimes involving domestic violence.   The debate had been whether only persons convicted of statutes specifically referring to domestic violence were prohibited from firearm possession or if the prohibition applied to anyone convicted of certain crimes involving a family member regardless of the title of the crime.


The Supreme Court has decided that the terms of the Federal law prohibit ownership of a firearm by anyone convicted of a misdemeanor for the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon against 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.

Interesting, but what does this Court ruling have to do with topics?  Domestic violence, by either spouse, is not to be tolerated under any situation.  It is the definition of “domestic violence” for this statute that is the issue.  Unfortunately, this ruling affects some common domestic litigation scenarios.  Clients who are in law enforcement, the military, airline pilots, security, or work in the gun/sporting goods industry are now at greater risk of losing their right to possess a firearm, and potentially their employment, than previously.

When a divorce, custody, or other domestic litigation case becomes hotly contested, the parties may exhibit out-of-character behavior or make hasty threats that would constitute assault or battery.  Slamming doors, punching walls, throwing cell phones, grabbing the other person’s arm to get their attention, empty threats, are all inappropriate behaviors that often can be addressed through counseling or intervention by the family court.

It is when the victim of the conduct invokes criminal charges or police intervention that the criminal and legal consequences become severe, as these types of conduct can constitute misdemeanor assault or battery and the Federal gun possession prohibition will apply if the conduct results in a misdemeanor conviction.  Assuming that the prosecutors deem the conduct to warrant criminal charges, depending upon the circumstances and State criminal laws, a lesser charge may still be available to resolve the matter without raising the Federal firearm prohibition.  It is important that the defense attorney consider the ramification of the Federal firearm prohibition in any plea negotiations.

Prior to this clarification a domestic situation which leads to police intervention might be treated as assault or battery, but not charged as domestic violence, with the intent to avoid the additional punishment of the Federal firearm prohibition.  As the Federal gun possession prohibition now is interpreted to cover other misdemeanor convictions, not just crimes specifically directed at domestic violence, the defendant is not able to plea bargain to a lesser crime such as assault or battery to avoid the Federal firearm possession prohibition.  While criminal law is beyond the scope of DadsDivorce, persons who previously agreed to a lesser charge to avoid the firearm prohibition should consult a qualified attorney to determine if they are covered by this latest ruling and now subject to Federal criminal liability for possessing a firearm.  There are exceptions and exemptions available under the Federal law and these should be explored if this clarification of the law applies to any prior convictions.


Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell.

Mr. Coffee is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.  Read more.


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