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Federal Domestic Violence Laws

Issues and Answers

Violence and abuse at the hands of a loved one is frightening, degrading and confusing. Have you experienced this violence and abuse? If so, you are a victim of domestic violence. You are also the victim of crime.

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 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 violence abusers to possess guns. The majority of domestic violence cases will continue to be handled by your 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.

This brochure is designed to provide practical information on the available federal domestic violence laws and penalties and the rights of federal victims.

Who Should I call to Report a Possible Federal Crime?

Always contact your local authorities in cases of an emergency. You local District Attorney's Office will refer appropriate cases for federal prosecution to the United States Attorney's Office. If you are unsure of the violation, please contact your local authorities.

What are the Federal Crimes?

All the federal domestic violence crimes are felonies.

It is a federal crime under the Violence Against Women Act ("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); and
  • to cross state lines to 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; and
  • to possess a firearm and/or ammunition after conviction of a qualifying misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

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.

In a Gun Control Act case, the Court may order restitution. Please 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.

Can My Concerns be Heard in a Federal Court?

A victim in a VAWA case shall have the right to speak to the Judge at a bail hearing to inform the Judge of any danger posed by the release of the defendant. Any victim of a crime of violence shall also have the right to address the Court in person at the time of sentencing.

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;

7) The right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender.

Help is Available

If you are the victim of a domestic violence crime, it is normal to feel scared, helpless, and vulnerable. Remember, you are not alone. The following agencies exist to help:

National Assistance

Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Coalition Against
Domestic Violence


Local Assistance

Memphis Police Department
Domestic Violence Unit


Shelby County Sheriff's Department
Domestic Violence Unit


Shelby County Government
Victims Assistance Center


District Attorney General's Office

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF)

United States Attorney's Office

If you have questions, please call the Victim Witness Coordinator for the Western District of Tennessee at (901) 544-4231.

Updated May 26, 2020