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Name: James v. California
Case #: F065003
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 08/26/2014

A misdemeanor battery committed against a spouse constitutes “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under federal gun law. [On transfer from the California Supreme Court after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Castleman (2014) 134 S.Ct. 1405.] After his arrest in 1996 for spousal battery (Pen. Code, § 273.5), James pled nolo contendere to misdemeanor battery (Pen. Code, § 242). In 2008, James applied to be a reserve deputy sheriff and learned the State of California considered his conviction to be a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (MCDV), rendering him ineligible. In 2011, his application to purchase a gun was denied because of the conviction. He sought mandate directing the State of California to declare him not to have suffered an MCDV, claiming a section 242 violation was not a valid categorical predicate offense for this classification. The trial court granted the petition, concluding that misdemeanor battery was not an MCDV, as it can be committed by “the slightest touching,” while the federal statute requires the violent use of force against the person of another. The State appealed. Held: Reversed. The federal Gun Control Act prohibits any person convicted of an MCDV from possessing a gun. (18 USC § 922(g)(9).) The Act defines an MCDV as an offense that (1) is a misdemeanor under state law; (2) “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon;” and (3) is committed by the victim’s current or former spouse. (18 USC § 922(a)(33)(A).) In Castleman the Court concluded that the requirement of “force” under section 922(a)(33)(A) is satisfied “by the degree of force that supports a common-law battery conviction,” i.e., the slightest offensive touching. Section 242 defines a battery as any willful and unlawful use of force against another person. Applying Castleman’s definition of “physical force,” the court here concluded that a violation of section 242 has, as an element, the use of physical force.