(CN) – A microbiologist convicted on chemical-weapons charges after trying to poison her husband’s lover can challenge the federal statute on which she was convicted, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Carol Anne Bond pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon, and two counts of mail theft for trying to harm her former friend, Myrlinda Haynes, whom Bond’s husband had impregnated. After first subjecting Haynes to harassing phone calls and letters, she tried to poison the other woman 24 times over several months by spreading highly toxic chemicals on the other woman’s home doorknob, car door handles and mailbox.
Bond obtained the chemicals from her employer, chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas, stealing some 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine and ordering a vial of potassium dichromate over the Internet.
Half a teaspoon of 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine is lethal if ingested, and a few crystals are highly toxic. Potassium dichromate is even more dangerous; less than one-quarter of a teaspoon ingested can kill.
Haynes often noticed and avoided the chemicals, but once burned her thumb. She complained to police, who told her to clean her car and door handles regularly, as the substance might be cocaine. Frustrated, she turned to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which put up surveillance cameras.
Cameras caught Bond opening Haynes’ mailbox, stealing a business envelope and placing potassium dichromate in the muffler of Haynes’ car.
Inspectors also discovered that nearly four pounds of the chemical were missing at the Rohm and Haas center where Bond worked.
The evidence led to an arrest warrant for Bond, and search warrants for Bond’s car and home, where inspectors found pieces of Haynes’ mail and traces of the chemicals.
At a holding cell in the Philadelphia Post Office, Bond admitted to taking the chemicals from her employer.
Bond pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison, a $2,000 fine and nearly $10,000 in restitution. She appealed the sentence and conviction, claiming that the District Court erred in refusing to suppress certain evidence and in not dismissing the chemical weapons charges.
The 3rd Circuit refused to let Bond challenge the chemical weapons charge, which she claimed was passed by Congress in violation of the 10th Amendment. Constitutional principles of federalism prohibit federal prosecution of “localized” crimes, she claimed.
Noting that the state was not a party to the federal criminal proceeding, the Philadelphia-based federal appeals panel found that Bond lacked standing to challenge the statute.
The Supreme Court disagreed Thursday, ordering the 3rd Circuit to address the merits of Bond’s challenge on remand.
Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that Bond meets the prerequisites for Article III standing since her conviction and sentence “satisfies the case-or-controversy requirement, because the incarceration … constitutes a concrete injury, caused by the conviction and redressable by invalidation of the conviction.”
Kennedy added that Bond is not trying assert the legal rights and interests of the state.
“As explained below, Bond seeks to vindicate her own constitutional interests,” Kennedy wrote. “The individual, in a proper case, can assert injury from governmental action taken in excess of the authority that federalism defines. Her rights in this regard do not belong to a State.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, to note that “Bond, like any other defendant, has a personal right not to be convicted under a constitutionally invalid law.”
In this case Bond has challenged a law under the 10th Amendment, but other defendants raise claims under the Establishment Clause, the Due Process Clause and myriad other doctrines, Ginsburg wrote.