You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Poisoning husband’s lover NOT a chemical weapons attack, Supreme Court rules

Question of the Day

Should Congress make English the official language of the U.S.?

View results

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected the federal government's effort to stretch a major international treaty to cover a domestic dispute, ruling that a law meant to implement a chemical-weapons treaty doesn't apply to a woman who tried to poison her husband's lover.

But the justices skirted broader constitutional issues over whether Congress can enlarge its powers beyond the scope of the Constitution through treaties.

Instead, the court decided the case on the basis of federalism, ruling that states are capable of policing domestic disputes without federal prosecutors trying to turn them into national crimes.

"The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the federal government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in his opinion.

Justice Antonin Scalia chided the chief justice for shying away from the bigger implications of the case, saying the court put itself in the shoes of Congress and rewrote the law, when it should have instead grappled with the thorny constitutional questions over treaties and the scope of Capitol Hill's powers.

"We should not have shirked our duty and distorted the law to preserve that assertion; we should have welcomed and eagerly grasped the opportunity — nay, the obligation — to consider and repudiate it," Justice Scalia wrote.

The case itself read like a movie script. After finding out that her husband got her best friend pregnant, Carol Anne Bond, of Norristown, Pa., tried to poison the woman, Myrlinda Haynes.

As a microbiologist, Mrs. Bond stole one toxic chemical from her employer and bought another chemical on Amazon.com that's regularly used in photography darkrooms. She repeatedly spread the chemicals on Ms. Haynes's car door, mailbox and home door knob, hoping to injure her rival — but Ms. Haynes escaped the attacks with nothing more than a chemical burn on her thumb.

Mrs. Bond was finally caught by postal inspectors, whom Ms. Haynes called in after she found a powder on her mailbox. Federal prosecutors charged her with mail theft but also, in a move Chief Justice Roberts called "surprising," added in two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon.

The trial court convicted her on the chemical-weapons charges, and an appeals court upheld those convictions.

But the Supreme Court's ruling Monday overturns the lower court actions.
Chief Justice Roberts' opinion dripped with derision for the federal government's decision to go after Mrs. Bond under statutes meant to protect against war crimes. At one point, he said nothing in the facts of the case "suggest that a chemical weapon was deployed in Norristown."

"Potassium dichromate and 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine might be chemical weapons if used, say, to poison a city's water supply. But Bond's crime is worlds apart from such hypotheticals, and covering it would give the statute a reach exceeding the ordinary meaning of the words Congress wrote," the chief justice opined.

While the court was unanimous in ruling Bond couldn't be prosecuted under the laws meant to carry out the chemical-weapons treaty, the decision produced outcries from Justices Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., who said the court should have tackled the constitutional questions.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks