Crimes involving illicit love triangles, revenge, poisoned doors and a treaty on chemical weapons typically aren't the Supreme Court's bailiwick. But on Tuesday, the justices sifted through the details of an unusual case in which international law was used to convict a jilted wife.
Carol Anne Bond, from Lansdale, Pa., is accused of spreading highly toxic chemicals on a doorknob, car door and mailbox in a failed attempt to poison her husband's pregnant lover, who also was her best friend.
Postal investigators, who arrested Bond, said the chemicals she used were 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine, which they say she stole from her workplace, and potassium dichromate that she bought on Amazon.com. Both can be deadly if ingested or exposed to the skin at sufficiently high levels.
The victim suffered a minor chemical burn on her thumb but was otherwise uninjured.
U.S. Postal inspectors arrested Bond, and a federal grand jury indicted her on two counts of possessing and using a "chemical weapon" in violation of a treaty the U.S. signed in 1997 that seeks to ban the spread of chemical weapons around the globe.
Bond, who pleaded guilty, got a six-year prison term — three times the sentence she could have received if the state had prosecuted her.
Some justices asked if the federal government went too far in using an international treaty to prosecute a scorned wife.
"If you told ordinary people that you were going to prosecute Ms. Bond for using a chemical weapon, they would be flabbergasted," said Justice Samuel Alito. "It's so far outside of the ordinary meaning of the word."
Justice Anthony Kennedy told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli that it "seems unimaginable that you would bring this prosecution."
Justices questioned, sometimes jokingly, whether household items, such as kerosene, matches and vinegar also could be considered chemical weapons.
Alito even joked that – using the same logic that federal prosecutors followed to convict Bond — he technically handed out a deadly "poison" to Halloween trick or treaters: chocolate bars. "Chocolate is poison to dogs, so it's a toxic chemical under the chemical weapons" treaty, he said.
Verrilli tried to temper the jokes, warning that the case was "serious business."
Bond's attorney, Paul Clement, argued that using treaties, which are ratified by the Senate, to convict people for local crimes "exceeds Congress's limited and enumerated powers."
"This court's cases have made clear that it is a bedrock principle of our federalist system that Congress lacks a general police power to criminalize conduct without regard to a jurisdictional element or some nexus to a matter of distinctly federal concern," he said.
But Verrilli insisted that if the federal government entered into a valid treaty, language in that law can be used domestically for cases normally handled by local or state authorities.
"It has never held that a ratified treaty exceeds the federal government's constitutional authority," he said.
The high court is expected to deliver a ruling next year before the current session ends in late June.