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Press Release

United States Supreme Court Holds Oral Argument In Criminal Firearms Case From West Tennessee

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Tennessee

Memphis, TN – On Wednesday morning, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in United States v. Castleman, a federal criminal case originating in the Western District of Tennessee, announced U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III.

In 2001, James Castleman was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault in state court in Carroll County, Tennessee. The state indictment alleged that Castleman intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury to the mother of his child.

In 2008, law enforcement agents discovered that Castleman and his wife were allegedly buying firearms from dealers and selling them on the black market. In August 2009, a federal grand jury in Memphis charged Castleman with two counts of possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9).

The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss these federal charges in April 2010, on the basis that defendant’s prior Tennessee domestic assault conviction was not “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” as that term is defined in federal law.

The United States appealed, and in September 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, with each Judge of the divided three-member panel writing separately. The government sought rehearing by the en banc Court of Appeals, but the court declined to reconsider its decision.

In May 2013, the United States filed a petition for a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court. The Court granted that petition on October 1, 2013. The question presented before the Supreme Court is whether Castleman’s Tennessee conviction for misdemeanor domestic assault by intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to the mother of his child qualifies as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under federal law. The case has important implications for federal prosecutions of domestic abusers who arm themselves with firearms.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel French and Criminal Appellate Chief Kevin G. Ritz represented the United States during the proceedings in the lower courts. The Office of the Solicitor General is representing the government in the Supreme Court. Arguing for the United States is Assistant to the Solicitor General Melissa Arbus Sherry. A decision in the case is expected before the end of June.

Updated March 19, 2015