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Supreme Court: Chemical Weapons Treaty Can't Be Used in Assault Case

By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors can't use a chemical weapons treaty to convict a Pennsylvania woman who attacked her husband's mistress.

Carol Anne Bond was convicted under a federal law which enforces an international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons -- for a crime that the Supreme Court grouped among "the simplest of assaults." Bond had attempted to spread chemicals on her husband's lover's car, door knob, and mailbox in a mostly unsuccessful ploy to give the woman a rash.

So why did the Supreme Court feel Bond couldn't be prosecuted under the chemical weapons statutes?

Treaty Law Doesn't Cover Simple Assault

In implementing the international Convention of the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, federal law prohibits creating or using chemical weapons. While you might expect this chemical weapons statute to deal only in cases of anthrax, nerve gas, or ricin, in Bond's case, it involved only a minor chemical burn.

Bond had obtained two potentially lethal chemicals -- 10-cholor-10H-phenoxarsine and potassium dichromate -- with the intention of getting revenge on the woman her husband had impregnated. However, Bond didn't intend to kill the woman; she simply wanted to irritate her skin by placing the chemicals on everyday items.

Bond's lawyers argued before the High Court that the federal statute was not intended to cover her actions and that Pennsylvania law was more than apt to punish her. In its Monday opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. A fair reading of the chemical weapons statute would not reduce any act involving a chemical substance and an injury to a federal crime, and Pennsylvania law was well equipped to handle these more mundane cases, the Court explained.

The High Court noted that where federal statutes are ambiguous, they must be interpreted in a way that preserves the federal-state balance. For example, every case of arson does not implicate federal arson laws, and every chemical assault is not a federal chemical weapons case.

Treaty Argument Sidestepped

The Supreme Court was also presented with the argument that the chemical weapons law, even if it usurped state authority, was justified in executing a treaty. The High Court determined that it could decide Bond's case without answering this constitutional question, so this issue remains unsettled.

As USA Today reports, many conservative groups were hoping the Court would take this as an opportunity to overrule Missouri v. Holland which empowered Congress to use federal treaties to overstep state laws. But the Court's ruling in Bond did not do that.

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