Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This Act, and the 1996 and 2000 additions to the Act, recognize that domestic violence is a national problem and that federal laws can help an overburdened state and local criminal justice system. In 1994 and 1996, 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 those laws may be the most appropriate course of action.
Who to Contact about a Federal Domestic Violence Crime
For immediate domestic violence emergencies call 911. For a possible federal Gun Control Act violation, call the local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Office. The Vermont ATF Office number is 802-951-6593. For a possible VAWA violation, call the local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Office. The Burlington FBI Office number is 802-863-6316. If you are unsure of the violation, call your local police department.
Federal Domestic Violence Crimes and Penalties
It is a federal crime under VAWA:
● to cross state lines or enter or leave Indian country and commit or attempt to commit a crime of violence against an "intimate partner". 18 U.S.C. § 2261
● 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) or to stalk by mail or computer. 18 U.S.C. § 2261A
● to cross state lines or enter or leave Indian country and violate a qualifying Protection Order (in Vermont an abuse prevention order is commonly known as a restraining order). 18 U.S.C. § 2262
It is a federal crime under the Gun Control Act:
● to possess a firearm and/or ammunition while subject to a qualifying Protection Order (Restraining Order). 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)
● to possess a firearm and/or ammunition after conviction of a qualifying misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9)
A violation of the Gun Control Act, § 922(g)(8) and § 922(g)(9), carries a maximum prison term of ten years. A violation under VAWA, § 2261, § 2261A and § 2262, carries a maximum prison term of five years to life, depending on the seriousness of the bodily injury caused by the defendant.
Qualifying Domestic Violence Misdemeanors
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 or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. In addition, Section 922(g)(9) imposes other legal requirements. The United States Attorney's Office will examine your case and determine whether the prior domestic violence misdemeanor conviction qualifies under Section 922(g)(9).
Qualifying Protection Orders
Possession of a firearm and or ammunition while subject to a Protection Order (Restraining Order), and interstate violation of a Protection Order (Restraining Order), are federal crimes if the Protection Order "qualifies" under Sections 2262 and 922(g)(8). Generally, a Protection Order (Restraining Order) will qualify under federal law if reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard was given to the person against whom the Court's Order was entered and if the Order forbids future threats of violence. The United States Attorney's Office can evaluate your Protection Order (Restraining Order) to see if it qualifies. Therefore, you should keep copies of all Protection (Restraining) Orders.
Definition of Intimate Partner
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 lives or has lived with the victim.
Federal Domestic Violence Victims' Rights
A victim of a federal domestic violence offense has the following rights under 42 U.S.C. § 10606(b):
● The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy;
● The right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender;
● The right to be notified of court proceedings;
● 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 trial;
● The right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case;
● The right to restitution; and,
● The right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender.
In a VAWA case, the Court shall order restitution to repay the victim the full amount of losses. Those losses may include costs for medical or psychological care, physical therapy, transportation for court appearances, temporary housing, child care expenses, lost income, attorney's fees, costs incurred in obtaining a civil protection order, and other losses suffered by the victim as a direct result of the offense. In a Gun Control Act case, the Court may order restitution. It is wise to keep a record of all expenses caused by the domestic violence crime.