Supreme Court justices skeptical of arms pact use in 'domestic dispute'
WASHINGTON — A love triangle that ended with a Montgomery County woman poisoning her pregnant rival spawned a debate over chemical weapons, international relations, federalism and chocolate at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with justices left trying to make sense of how a jealous wife ended up being prosecuted for violating an international chemical weapons treaty.
Carol Anne Bond of Lansdale is challenging her conviction, saying that the federal government's decision to charge her using a chemical weapons law was an unconstitutional reach into a state's power to handle what her lawyer calls a domestic dispute.
Bond, unable to carry children of her own, was excited when her best friend Myrlina Haynes announced her pregnancy. But Bond found out her husband of more than 14 years, Clifford Bond, was the father.
Bond, a laboratory technician, stole the chemical 10-chloro-10H phenoxarsine from the company where she worked and purchased potassium dichromate on Amazon.com. Both can be deadly if ingested or exposed to the skin at sufficiently high levels.
Bond combined and spread the chemicals on Haynes' door handle and in the tailpipe of Haynes' car. Haynes noticed the bright orange compound but could not get local police interested in investigating. She called at least a dozen times, but police suggested that she take her car to a car wash and suggested that the chemicals might be cocaine.
When Haynes found the compound on her mailbox, she complained again to police, who told her to call the Postal Service. Postal inspectors arrested Bond, saying that Bond tried to poison Haynes at least 24 times between 2006 and 2007.
“The state of Pennsylvania exercised its prosecutorial discretion not to pursue this matter,” Bond's lawyer said.
But a federal grand jury indicted her on two counts of possessing and using a chemical weapon, applying a federal anti-terrorism law.
Bond pleaded guilty and was given six years in prison.
A couple of justices were very critical of government prosecutors for choosing to prosecute Bond using the chemical weapons law. “If you told ordinary people that you were going to prosecute Ms. Bond for using a chemical weapon, they would be flabbergasted,” Justice Samuel Alito said. “It's so far outside of the ordinary meaning of the word.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy said it “seems unimaginable that you would bring this prosecution.”
Justices went down a long list of everyday items that could be prosecuted under the law since they could cause harm to humans or animals, including the use of kerosene, matches, performance-enhancing drugs used in sports, and even vinegar — which would poison goldfish if introduced to a fishbowl. Alito later drove home his point by saying under the law, even innocent, ordinary actions could become questionable if the government's power is not limited.
“Would it shock you if I told you that a few days ago my wife and I distributed toxic chemicals to a great number of children?” he said to laughter from the courtroom. “On Halloween, we gave them chocolate bars. Chocolate is poison to dogs, so it's a toxic chemical under the chemical weapons” law.
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli assured Alito he would probably get away with it, but warned the issue was no joke and said justices shouldn't get involved in trying to decide what treaty terms mean.