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A twist on intent: U.S. Supreme Court reverses wife's chemical weapons conviction

What started out as a telenovela-style plot of revenge: A wronged wife placed two deadly chemicals upon her husband's mistress's doorknobs, mailbox, and car, hoping to make the woman sick. By the way, the mistress was the wife's best friend, and she was pregnant and the husband was the father. The mistress suffered, at most, one slight chemical burn which was alleviated with flushing with water. No other injuries occurred. However, the wife was charged, not with assault and battery, but with violations of the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction.

No soap opera would dare come up with such a plot.

Bond v. United States-What is a chemical weapon?

The provision of the implementing legislation of the chemical weapons convention that the wife was convicted of violating was, essentially, the use of a "chemical weapon." The chemicals that the wife used, while toxic and potentially lethal in sufficient doses, do have common uses and the wife intended only to cause a rash, not to kill. The Supreme Court, in reviewing the meaning of the term "chemical weapon," stated that an ordinary person would understand that a person used a chemical weapon in a far different manner than if a person used chemicals to cause harm.

Not something used for personal reason

The Court continued to note that the chemicals that the wife used were not the type used in chemical warfare. Nor was the intent behind the use-one of a romantic triangle-the same as an attack due to war or terrorism.

Not something in your kitchen cabinet

Further, the Court addressed the ordinary meaning of the term "chemical weapon," and concluded that to broadly define the term would open a Pandora's box to include ordinary household and industrial chemicals, an outcome that would be unrealistic.

Law should not cover ordinary local crime

Finally, an extensive reading of "chemical weapons" would insert the power of the federal government into local law enforcement. While noting that the federal government has a substantial interest in protecting the public against terrorism, mass suffering, and assassination, Congress has traditionally been reluctant to make a federal crime those crimes already so defined by state law.

As summarized by the Supreme Court, the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require Congress to reach into the kitchen pantry or to treat an assault with a chemical irritant as an attack with a chemical weapon.

Defend against prosecutor overreach

If you suspect that you are subject to an overzealous local or federal prosecutor, your should immediately contact an attorney experienced in criminal law so that you may begin to investigate how best to protect your liberty and your rights.

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