Today a misdemeanor; Tomorrow your right to bear arms

Many people know that a felony conviction can have serious consequences, including the lifelong loss of one’s right to possess a firearm. But what most people are surprised to learn is that many misdemeanor convictions, even for such crimes as disorderly conduct, can result in a lifetime firearm ban as well. This is because federal law makes it a crime for anyone to possess a firearm or ammunition if they have previously been convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” Doing so is punishable by up to 10 years in a federal prison, and is routinely punished with prison sentences rather than probation.

To further complicate things, Wisconsin law and federal law use different definitions for what is considered a “domestic” situation. For instance, Wisconsin law considers crimes “domestic” if they involve a spouse, former spouse, roommate, or former roommate, or individuals’ who share a child. On the other hand, under federal law a “domestic” crime also includes those committed by a parent or guardian against a child, but not a roommate or former roommate, unless the roommate was living with the individual in a manner “similarly situated” to a spouse, parent, or guardian. Another difference is that, under federal law, a crime is considered a “crime of violence” if it includes the use or attempted use of force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. However, in Wisconsin some misdemeanor charges, such as disorderly conduct, can cover a range of behavior, from “boisterous” to “abusive,” making it unclear whether or not the conduct constitutes a “crime of violence.”

The differences between Wisconsin and federal law can create problems for someone charged with a misdemeanor, because even if the “State “domestic” label is dismissed as part of a plea deal, the case can still be considered a crime of “domestic violence” by federal authorities. Also, in situations where an individual is charged with domestic disorderly conduct, unless the charging and plea documents specifically note that the foundation of the charge was something other than abusive or violent behavior, this can also trigger a lifetime firearm ban.

If you find yourself facing a misdemeanor charge of any sort and you care about maintaining your ability to possess a firearm, your best bet is to contact a skilled attorney. While many “minor” crimes, such as disorderly conduct, can be resolved relatively quickly for a fine or a very short jail sentence, doing so without consulting an attorney might result in losing your constitutional right to bear arms.