Friday, November 8, 2013

Love and chemicals and hate and unnecessary federal prosecutions

A suburban couple.

An affair.

A love child.

An angry wife.

Poison. Poison. Poison.

Soap opera? Lifetime movie? Nope - fact pattern for a case before the US Supreme Court.

Carol Anne Bond found out her husband was sleeping with a neighbor and had fathered a child with his mistress. Ms. Bond was, understandably, upset. Folks tend to deal with their anger issues in different ways. Ms. Bond threatened her hubby's little hussy.

She ended up pleading guilty to a charge of harassment.

But, believing, as the Mythbusters do, that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, Ms. Bond turned up the volume and set out to poison the object of her husband's affections. The US Postal Service eventually learned of her actions and recorded her in the act.

Federal prosecutors then charged Ms. Bond with violating the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention - a treaty to which the US is a signatory. Ms. Bond was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Ms. Bond appealed her conviction, arguing that the application of the treaty violated the notion of state's rights. The question is whether the provisions of an international treaty signed by the US government are binding on individuals in the states.

What Ms. Bond did was a clear violation of state law. She could have been prosecuted by prosecutors in Pennsylvania and sentenced to a maximum of two years.

The defendant and the victim both lived in Pennsylvania. The attempted poisonings were committed in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has laws that make it a crime to try to poison someone. There was no vital federal interest at stake. While treaties are the law of the land, the treaty in question concerns nations at war with each other - there was no contemplation that the treaty would be used to prosecute a wife scorned.

There was no reason for a federal prosecution in this case. There is never any reason for a federal prosecution when there is a state statute that covers the activity in question. The only crime mentioned in the Constitution is treason - a crime against the state itself. Maybe this is too radical a notion - and I'm certain that it's far too late in the game to pursue - but we really need to rethink our approach to federal criminal jurisprudence. Our goal should really be to reduce the number of federal crimes - not increase them.

Until then we will continue to have to deal with the absurdity of folks being prosecuted in federal court over actions that properly belong in the state courts.

No comments: