(CN) - The federal government exceeded its authority by using an international chemical weapons treaty as the vehicle to prosecute a jilted wife seeking revenge on her husband's lover, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Carol Bond, a microbiologist, was prosecuted under the international chemical weapons treaty after she discovered her husband was the father of her best friend Myrlinda Haynes' child, and sought revenge first by subjecting her to harassing phone calls and letters, and then by repeatedly spreading a combination of chemicals -- potassium dischromate purchased from Amazon and 10-chloro-10-H-phenoxarsine take from her employer -- on Haynes' home doorknob, car door handles and mailbox.
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.
Bond later pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon, and two counts of mail theft, and was sentenced to six years in prison, a $2,000 fine and nearly $10,000 in restitution.
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 later
disagreed, 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 had met 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 was not trying assert the legal rights and interests of the state.
In November 2013, the case was back before the Supreme Court, where the U.S. argued Bond's actions violated the federal law implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which makes it a crime to "receive, stockpile, retain, own, possess, use, or threaten to use" a chemical weapon.
Bond's lawyers, meanwhile, argued that applying the law to their client was unconstitutional because it required an overly expansive reading of Congress' power.
In a unanimous decision, the high court found on Monday that despite the sanctity of treaties, they cannot always supplant local police powers.
Indeed, in this case, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, no one "in natural parlance would describe Bond's feud-driven act of spreading irritating chemicals on Hayne's door know and mailbox as 'combat.' Nor do the other circumstances of Bond's offense -- an act of revenge born of romantic jealousy, meant to cause discomfort, that produced nothing more than a minor thumb burn -- suggest that a chemical weapon was deployed in Norristown, Pennsylvania."
In order for the court to side with the prosecutors, Roberts said the government "would have us brush aside the ordinary meaning and adopt a reading of section 229 that would sweep in everything from the detergent under the kitchen sink to the stain remover in the laundry room."
Under the circumstances, Robert said, it is clear that the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania "and every other state" are sufficient to prosecute Bond.
"In sum," Roberts wrote, setting aside the appellate decision and remanding the case for further proceedings, "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. There is no reason to suppose that Congress -- in implementing the Convention on Chemical Weapons -- thought otherwise."