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Federal Domestic Violence Laws

In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This Act, and the 1996, 2000, and 2005 additions to the Act, recognize that domestic violence is a national crime and that federal laws can help an overburdened state and local criminal justice system. In 1994, 1996, and 2005 Congress also passed changes to the Gun Control Act making it a federal crime in certain situations for domestic abusers to possess guns. The majority of domestic violence cases will continue to be handled by state and local authorities. In some cases, however, the federal laws and the benefits gained from applying these laws, may be the most appropriate course of action.

All the federal domestic violence crimes are felonies. It is a federal crime under VAWA:

  • to cross state lines or enter or leave Indian country and physically injure an "intimate partner;"

  • to 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);

  • to cross state lines or enter or leave Indian country and violate a qualifying protection order.

It is a federal crime under the Gun Control Act:

  • to possess a firearm and/or ammunition while subject to a qualifying protection order;

  • to possess a firearm and/or ammunition after conviction of a qualifying misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

A violation of the Gun Control Act has a maximum prison term of ten years. A violation under VAWA has a maximum prison term of five years to life, depending on the seriousness of the bodily injury caused by the defendant.

In a VAWA case, the court must order restitution to pay the victim the full amount of losses. These losses include costs for medical or psychological care, physical therapy, transportation, temporary housing, child care expenses, lost 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. In a Gun Control Act case, the court may order restitution.

Possession of a firearm and/or ammunition after conviction of a "qualifying" domestic violence misdemeanor is a federal crime. 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 or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. The U.S. Attorney's Office will review the case and determine whether the prior domestic violence misdemeanor conviction qualifies for prosecution under federal statute.

Possession of a firearm and/or ammunition while subject to a protection order, and interstate violation of a protection order are federal crimes if the protection order "qualifies" under federal statutes. Generally, a protection order will qualify under federal law if reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard was given to the offender and if the order forbids future threats of violence. The U.S. Attorney's Office will review a case to determine if it qualifies for prosecution under federal law.

Generally, the federal laws recognize 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.

A victim in a VAWA case shall have the right to speak, if desired, to the judge at a bail hearing to inform the judge of any danger posed by the release of the offender. Any victim of a crime of violence shall also have the right to speak, if desired, at the time of sentencing.

Violence and abuse at the hands of a loved one is frightening, degrading and confusing. If individuals have experienced this violence and abuse, they are victims of domestic violence. They are also victims of crime! Despite their conflicting emotions, the legal system may be one of the most effective ways to protect themselves and their children.

 

 If you have any questions or problems related to a case, please click on the "Contact Victim Witness Services Staff" link below or contact the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case.

Contact Victim Witness Services Staff

 

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