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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Indiana

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hogsett Announces Landmark Decision That Protects Victims Of Domestic Violence

Seventh Circuit rules that certain violations of Indiana’s Domestic Battery Statute qualify as a
“Violent Felony” Under the Armed Career Criminal Act

INDIANAPOLIS - Joseph H. Hogsett, the United States Attorney, announced today the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s decision in United States v. Joseph Johnson recently affirmed that certain violations of Indiana’s domestic battery statute, I.C. § 35-42-2-1.3, qualify as a “violent felony” under the Federal Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B). This decision resolves a long-standing debate whether domestic battery in the presence of a child under the age of 16 qualifies as a “violent felony.” As such, violators face significantly stiffer penalties than they would otherwise face.

“No relationship deserves the use or threat of physical violence, said Hogsett. “This court decision adds tools to our prosecution strategies to help keep victims safe from their attackers.”

The Federal Armed Career Criminal Act punishes an individual who possesses a firearm and has at least three prior violent felony convictions with a fifteen year mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment. Prior to this decision in Johnson, there was no precedent stating that certain violations of Indiana’s domestic battery statute are considered “violent felonies” under the Act.

On September 12, 2013, Joseph Johnson, age 35, Indianapolis, Indiana, was sentenced by the Honorable William T. Lawrence, United States District Court Judge, to fifteen years imprisonment for possessing a firearm by convicted felon. Johnson has an extensive criminal history in Marion County, including violent felony convictions for robbery, resisting law enforcement, and domestic battery in the presence of a child under the age of sixteen. Johnson’s domestic battery conviction was particularly violent.

As described by the United States Attorney’s Office at Johnson’s sentencing hearing, Johnson repeatedly punched his victim in the face, threw a buckle at her head causing a laceration, forced her to the floor, and laid on top of her all night while pouring water on her face to keep her awake. Johnson’s children were present to witness this abuse.

Johnson appealed his sentence. On February 26, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Johnson’s sentence, finding that Indiana’s domestic battery statute is a “violent felony.”

According to Assistant United States Attorneys MaryAnn T. Mindrum and Cynthia J. Ridgeway, who together prosecuted this case for the government and argued the government’s position on appeal, the public is now safe from Johnson, a violent armed career criminal, who will serve his fifteen year sentence in federal prison.

Hosting today’s announcement is the staff at the Julian Center, the largest domestic violence services provider and family justice center in Indiana. For more than 39 years, its mission has been to provide the services victims need to recover and build a life absent of abuse. The Julian Center provided invaluable testimony, research, and statistics at Johnson’s sentencing hearing as to dangers and risk to domestic violence victims, and broader testimony on the cycle of violence inherent in domestic battery offenses. Jennifer Reister, Director of Non-Residential Services at The Julian Center testified that “domestic violence is the number one nonfatal cause of injury to women in the United States.”

“We are grateful that our years of work with, and service to, victims of domestic violence allowed us to provide the expertise to support the Court’s finding,” said Catherine O’Connor, president and CEO of The Julian Center. “The work on this case is just one of the many ways we seek to serve victims throughout our community.”

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office further conveyed the impact of domestic battery on Hoosier victims by providing compelling statistical evidence at the sentencing hearing regarding the prevalence of domestic battery convictions in Marion County.

Also present for the announcement is Laura Berry, Executive Director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an advocacy group helping to prevent domestic violence. “The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has just concurred with our long held belief that felony domestic battery is a crime of violence and not just an interpersonal matter,” said Berry.

Updated January 26, 2015