Assault Against Former Girlfriend Qualifies For Disqualification Under Lautenberg Amendment

The so-called Lautenberg Amendment, 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9), makes it unlawful for persons convicted of “misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence” to possess or receive firearms. When Alex Woods, a police officer with Denver, Colorado Police Department, was convicted by a jury of third-degree assault against a woman with whom he had formerly lived, the City terminated him. Woods’ challenge to his termination eventually made its way to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The Court found that the Lautenberg Amendment applied even though he was no longer living with the woman who was the victim of his assault. The Court turned first to the definition of the phrase “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” in the law. Under the law, such a crime is one “committed by a current or former spouse…by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”

Woods argued that the phrasing of the definition made it clear that the law applied to “former spouses,” but that the law did not apply to individuals who had merely formerly cohabitated.
The Court was unimpressed with Woods’ argument, referring to it as “absurd.” As the Court put it, “under Woods’ interpretation of the definition, a person who commits a misdemeanor crime of violence after terminating a marriage or after ceasing to cohabit as a spouse would be prohibited from possessing a firearm, but one who commits a crime after declaring an end to a similar relationship would not. In addition, under Woods’ interpretation, a person who commits such a crime the day before declaring an end to a similar relationship would be prevented from possessing a firearm while one who commits the same crime the day after such a declaration would be permitted to possess a firearm.”

The Court held that “in the light of the Amendment’s purpose of protecting victims of domestic violence, domestic violence includes violence between persons who have been spouses as a matter of law, those who have cohabitated as spouses notwithstanding the lack of such status as a matter of law, and those who have had an intimate relationship in which they were similarly situated to spouses. We also conclude that, under the statute, once a domestic relationship has begun, violence in the context of that relationship is domestic, regardless of whether the parties terminated their relationship before or after the violence occurred.”

Woods v. City and County of Denver, 2005 WL 1530207 (Colo.App. 2005).

This article appears in the August 2005 issue