Federal Domestic Violence Laws

Joyce B. Robinson

September 10, 2022

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The text in this article is from the U.S. Department of Justice Website

Federal Domestic Violence Laws

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an alarming rise in domestic violence and intimate partner violence. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). This Act, and the 1996 additions to the Act, recognize that domestic violence is a national crime. In 1994 and 1996, Congress also passed changes to the Gun Control Act making it a federal crime to possess a firearm and/or ammunition while subject to a qualifying Protection Order and to possess a firearm and/or ammunition after conviction of a qualifying misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Is a Domestic Violence Crime a Felony?

Domestic violence crimes are felonies. It is a federal crime under the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) to: (1) cross state lines or enter or leave Indian country and physically injure an “intimate partner,” (2) cross state lines to stalk or harass or to stalk or harass within the maritime or territorial lands of the United States (this includes military bases and Indian country), and (3) cross state lines to enter or leave Indian country and violate a qualifying Protection Order.

In a “VAWA” case, the Court must order restitution to pay the victim the full amount of loss. These losses include costs for medical or psychological care, physical therapy, transportation, temporary housing, child care expenses, loss of income, attorney's fees, costs incurred in obtaining a civil protection order, and any other losses suffered by the victim as a result of the offense. Victims are encouraged to keep a record of all expenses caused by the domestic violence crime.

What is a Qualifying Domestic Violence Misdemeanor?

Possession of a firearm and/or ammunition after conviction of a “qualifying” domestic violence misdemeanor is a federal crime under Section 922(g)(9). Generally, the misdemeanor will “qualify” if the conviction was for a crime committed by an intimate partner, parent or guardian of the victim that required the use of attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. The United States Attorney's Office will examine your case and determine whether the prior domestic violence misdemeanor conviction qualifies according to the law.

Who is an Intimate Partner?

Generally, the federal law recognizes an intimate partner as a spouse, a former spouse, a person who shares a child in common with the victim, or a person who cohabits or has cohabited with the victim.

Victims’ Rights

A federal domestic violence victim has the following rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 10606(b):

  1. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy;
  2. The right to be reasonable protected from the accused offender;
  3. The right to be notified of court proceedings;
  4. The right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, unless the court determines that testimony by the victim would be materially affected if the victim heard other testimony at the trial;
  5. The right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case;
  6. The right to restitution, and
  7. The right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender.

If you or someone you know are the victim of a domestic violence crime, contact one of the following agencies for help: Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1-303-839-1852. Also, contact your local police department. Don’t suffer in silence; you are not alone.


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