“Misdemeanor Crime Of Domestic Violence” Need Not Actually Include “Domestic Relationship” As Element

Robert Parsons, a police officer with the Bethlehem, West Virginia Police Department, entered a nolo contendere plea to domestic assault arising out of an incident where he held his girl friend’s arms and shoved her onto a couch. Parsons was sentenced to six months’ probation. As a condition of his probation, Parsons was not permitted to use or possess any firearms.

After Parsons’ probationary period expired, he filed a petition under West Virginia law to regain the ability to possess a firearm. Under West Virginia law, a court can allow an individual to redeem the right to possess a firearm “only if such possession would not violate any federal law.”
Parsons thus ran headlong into the Gun Control Act of 1968, which makes it unlawful for any individual who has been convicted of the “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess a gun. Parsons argued that the crime for which he was convicted did not include as an element of the offense a domestic relationship with the victim of the domestic violence.

West Virginia’s Supreme Court rejected Parsons’ arguments. The Court concluded that the federal statute “does not require that the underlying statute include as an element of the offense a domestic relationship between the victim of the domestic violence and the misdemeanant. It requires only that the misdemeanor was committed against the person who is enumerated in one of the domestic relationships specified in the federal law. The question here, then, is whether the person against whom Parsons committed domestic assault was any one of the domestic relationships with Parsons specified in the federal statute.”

The Court concluded that Parsons’ girlfriend was within the scope of the federal statute. The Court noted that Parsons’ girlfriend lived at the same address as Parsons, and that “a live-in girlfriend qualifies as a domestic relationship under the federal statute.”

In re Petition of Robert Parsons, 2005 WL 3210603 (W.Va. 2005).

This article appears in the January 2006 issue