The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the appeal of two men convicted in federal court in Bangor of illegally possessing guns stemming from their previous convictions for the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence assault.
The appeal will focus on the intent, known as mens rea, of the men when the domestic violence assaults occurred, their attorney Virginia Villa, the former federal public defender in Bangor, now of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, said Friday.
Under federal law, domestic violence assault must be committed intentionally, she said. Under Maine law, the crime may be committed with intent or recklessly.
A reckless assault could range from slapping or pushing a family member or domestic partner to tossing one of them the remote control, which hits the person who failed to catch it, according to Villa. For a domestic violence assault to be a misdemeanor in Maine, no serious injuries, such as a broken bone or severe bruises, can have been inflicted.
The nation’s high court will consider the question: “Does a misdemeanor crime with the mens rea of recklessness qualify as a ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence’ as defined by [federal law]?”
If successful, the federal convictions of William E. Armstrong III, 51, of New Vineyard, and Stephen L. Voisine, 55, of Wytopitlock, would be reversed and they would be allowed to possess guns again unless they have had subsequent convictions in state court that would ban them from having firearms. Both men have completed their prison sentences for the gun and domestic violence convictions.
Armstrong was released in July after serving seven months after his probation was revoked because he was charged in state court with drunken driving in July 2014. He originally was sentenced to three months of probation and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine in February 2012.
Voisine, 55, was released from federal prison in February 2013 after being sentenced to serve a year and day in February 2012. Voisine also was convicted of killing a bald eagle.
Both men entered conditional pleas to the charges that allowed them to pursue their appeals to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston.
“We conclude that reckless assault in Maine is ‘use of physical force’ within the meaning of a ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,’” Judge Sandra Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel on Jan. 30. “As noted above, [the statute] is meant to embrace those seemingly minor predicate acts, occurring sometimes in moments of passion, where the perpetrator consciously disregarded a risk in light of known circumstances. This often constitutes domestic violence. Reckless assaults in Maine fit that congressional intent.”
Other appellate courts have disagreed, according to Villa.
A date for oral arguments has not been set.