Voisine v. United States

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On January 25, 2016, NIWRC participated and filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of the United States Department of Justice, asking the United States Supreme Court to affirm the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Voisine v. United States. Collectively, NIWRC and their fellow amici urge the Supreme Court to uphold the application of federal firearms prohibition to individuals who have been convicted of domestic violence crimes against Native women. The amicus brief noted that, like the majority of States, many Tribal Governments define domestic violence as a crime that may be committed with reckless intent.

Five Indian Nations joined NIWRC’s amicus brief, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, the Seminole Nation, and the Tulalip Tribes. All five amici Indian Nations have invested substantial resources in order to fully exercise their inherent sovereignty and eradicate domestic violence on tribal lands; indeed, all five amici Indian Nations have implemented the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction restored in § 904 of the 2013 re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a provision that recognizes and restores the inherent sovereignty of Tribal Nations to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes of domestic violence against tribal citizens on tribal lands. Eighteen tribal coalitions dedicated to supporting survivors and ending domestic violence in tribal communities across the United States also joined the NIWRC amicus brief.

In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court today affirmed that the federal firearm prohibition, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), prohibits an individual convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm, regardless of whether the underlying crime of domestic violence was committed with knowing, intentional, or reckless intent. Petitioners Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong asked the Supreme Court to declare that Congress did not intend for § 922(g)(9)’s firearm prohibition to apply to individuals convicted of reckless domestic violence crimes. The Supreme Court declined to carve reckless convictions out of § 922(g)(9)’s reach. Instead, Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, stated that “Congress’s definition of a ‘misdemeanor crime of violence’ contains no exclusion for convictions based on reckless behavior. A person who assaults another recklessly ‘uses’ force, no less than one who carries out that same action knowingly or intentionally.”