U.S Supreme Court To Feds: "Stay Out Of The States' Business"

The U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that Carol Anne Bond’s assault on Myrlinda Hayes did not violate the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act of 1998. Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Hope C. Lefeber explains how the Supreme Court’s decision in Bond v. United States, 572 U. S. __ (2014) is an exercise in common sense. The case involved a now-infamous fact pattern: Bond, a microbiologist from Philadelphia, covered Hayes’ door, letterbox, and car with a homemade chemical compound as revenge for an affair between Hayes’ and Bond’s husband. The chemical caused a minor burn on Hayes’ thumb—treated by rinsing her thumb under cold water. In addition to mail fraud (for interfering with Hayes’ mail/mailbox), Bond was charged with violating the federal statute that implemented the international Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. The core issue, which made its way up to the Supreme Court, was whether Bond’s homemade chemical was a “chemical weapon” within the meaning of the federal statute. The Third Circuit ruled that it was. The Supreme Court disagreed. As far as Chief Justice Roberts was concerned, every “educated user of English” would not describe Bond’s homemade chemical as a “chemical weapon.” Basing the decision on the fact that every other prosecution under the statute concerned terrorism plots and threats to hundreds of people, the Court ruled that Bond was not using a “chemical weapon.” As the court noted, to hold otherwise would “transform the statute from one whose core concerns are acts of war, assassination, and terrorism into a massive federal anti-poisoning regime that reaches the simplest of assaults.” Ms. Lefeber explains how federalism issues were also a key concern. The Supreme Court specifically noted that Congress showed no intent for this statute to intrude on state criminal law. Additionally, the Court noted that Bond could be prosecuted for several offenses under Pennsylvanian criminal law. The Court’s bottom line was refreshingly pragmatic: “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.