Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that the federal government wrongly used a federal chemical weapons law to prosecute a Pennsylvania woman who tried to poison her husband’s pregnant lover.
Carol Anne Bond, a microbiologist, admitted to trying to poison Myrlinda Haynes, her close friend, with a combination of toxic chemicals she took from work and bought on Amazon.
Bond served six years in prison after a guilty plea that gave her a right to appeal.
“It’s wonderful to see the system work, although it took a lengthy amount of time,” Robert Goldman, Bond’s lawyer in Pennsylvania, said. “It’s just regrettable that she spent six years in prison under this statute. If the government had done the right thing from the start she wouldn’t have been in prison. The federal government can’t give her her life back, but she’s out now.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the court’s opinion that the law does not cover “a purely local crime: an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband’s lover, which ended by causing only a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water.”
The case now goes back to the local court, where Goldman said he expects Bond’s conviction to be vacated.
A federal court convicted Bond under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998, which makes it a federal crime for a person to use chemical weapons and punishes violators with severe penalties, up to the death penalty.
Bond sprinkled the chemicals around Haynes’ home two dozen times between November 2006 and June 2007. Other than the thumb burn, Bond’s attempts were unsuccessful. She said she was trying to give Haynes an uncomfortable rash.
The Supreme Court concluded Pennsylvania’s laws are sufficient to prosecute assaults like Bond’s.
“Even with its broadly worded definitions, we have doubts that a treaty about chemical weapons has anything to do with Bond’s conduct,” Roberts wrote. “The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard.”
The court issued opinions in three cases Monday and was unanimous in all of the decisions. But in Bond’s case, the justices were divided over rationale.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote separate opinions, arguing that the chemical weapons law covered Bond’s conduct. They argued that the case should be struck down on constitutional grounds instead, citing the 10th Amendment. It reserves to states the rights the Constitution does not assign to the federal government.
“As sweeping and unsettling as the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998 may be, it is clear beyond doubt that it covers what Bond did; and we have no authority to amend it,” Scalia wrote. “So we are forced to decide … whether the Act’s application to what Bond did was constitutional. I would hold that it is not.”