Collateral consequences of convictions reviewed by high court

Collateral punishments get stiffer each year. When charged with a sex crime, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

This term the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions that deal with the collateral consequences of state criminal convictions. The court was asked whether a state assault charge supported a federal gun charge that makes it a crime for those convicted of domestic violence to possess a gun. The second case involved a reasonable amount of restitution following a conviction for child pornography.

The punishment for domestic violence or a criminal sexual conduct conviction can include incarceration, fines, and probation. Beyond the criminal sanctions, owning a gun for hunting or recreation could be prohibited and a restitution order might result in garnished wages.

A broad interpretation of law criminalizing gun possession

The gun case involved a Tennessee man who was convicted of an assault on the mother of his child. The court records did not say what he did or the injuries the woman suffered. When the man was indicted for gun possession under federal law, he argued that the law did not apply to him, because his conviction was not a domestic violence crime. The definition of domestic violence requires the use of physical force.

The federal district court agreed with him finding that the state law could be violated by something other than physical force, for example by poisoning. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed holding that a conviction for a minor domestic violence offense bars an individual from possessing a gun under federal law. This is the case even though the requirement of proof of physical force is not required by some state statutes.

Justice Scalia while concurring in the result worried about the "all-embracing definition" of domestic violence. He wrote that "when everything is domestic violence, nothing is."

Restitution to a victim must be proportionate to harm caused

In the restitution case, a Texas man pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography after a search of his computer turned up 300 images of children engaged in sex acts. He received a prison sentence of two years along with 10 years of supervised release. One of the victims then presented a restitution demand for $3.4 million.

The man objected arguing that he had never met the victim or distributed the images. Estimates were that up to 70,000 people had downloaded or viewed the images that were taken by the victim's uncle. Restitution amounts in some of the other cases had ranged from $1,000 to $530,000.

In the Texas man's case, the Federal judge did not order restitution, however, on appeal the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals required he pay the entire $3.4 million in restitution.

Again the high court reversed the appellate court holding that a judge should have discretion when setting restitution based on the proportion of harm caused. The justices admitted that it could be a difficult task.

Both these cases underscore the collateral punishments that exist beyond prison time and fines. They also showcase how the language of a statute can be read to have different meanings and the changing nature of criminal law. When charged with any criminal offense, seek the counsel of a defense attorney who can advise of possible consequences and secure the best possible outcome.


Recent Posts