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High court rules for woman at center of poisoned paramour case

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Carol Anne Bond was sentenced to prison in the federal system
  • She argues she should have been tried in state courts
  • The court rules there is no precedent for denying her right to make that argument

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court ruled unanimously but narrowly Thursday for a woman convicted of trying to poison her best friend, giving her a chance to argue her case should have been handled in state courts.

Carol Anne Bond was given a longer prison sentence in the federal system after being charged with violating an international treaty on the use of chemical weapons.

The case of toxic love has soap-opera elements, but Bond's lawyers argued she was being treated like an international terrorist instead of someone caught up in a domestic dispute.

The justices agreed to some extent. "There is no basis in precedent or principle to deny (Bond's) standing to raise her claims," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 9-0 court.

Beyond this unusual dispute there are larger concerns about the strength and purpose of the Constitution's 10th Amendment, which preserves state sovereignty. It is also a question roiling the current political debate, especially among Tea Party conservatives in this post-9/11, security-conscious environment. The justices for the most part passed on that debate.

At issue was whether Bond had a right -- called "standing" -- to contest her conviction on grounds it went far beyond the normal scope of federal jurisdiction in this kind of crime.

Bond, a native of Barbados, lived outside Philadelphia and worked as a microbiologist. As a federal appeals court succinctly summarized the relevant facts in the case: "Bond was excited when her closest friend, Myrlinda Haynes, announced she was pregnant. Bond's excitement turned to rage when she learned that her husband, Clifford Bond, was the child's father. She vowed revenge."

The woman, known to her family as Betty, struck back by stealing dangerous a chemical -- arsenic-based 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine -- from her company. She also obtained potassium dichromate over the Internet. Both substances in heavy

doses can cause toxic, even lethal harm with very little physical contact.

The 40-year-old then tried to poison Haynes some two dozen times over several months, secretly sprinkling small amounts of the chemicals on an apartment doorknob, car door handles and a mailbox.

While suffering no more than a chemical burn on her thumb, Haynes grew suspicious -- one of the chemicals was a bright orange powder. After getting little help from local police, in 2007 she called postal inspectors, who set up surveillance cameras. Bond was videotaped stealing mail and placing chemicals inside the mailbox and a car muffler, court records show. She was soon arrested.

Bond admitted her guilt early on and claimed she never meant to kill Haynes, but only wanted to cause her "an uncomfortable rash." The defendant also said her friend's betrayal caused an "emotional breakdown" that made her

respond in such a shocking fashion.

Instead of being charged with simple assault, which may have gotten her six months to a year or two in state prison, Bond was indicted in federal court on two counts of mail fraud and -- the bombshell -- two counts of violating a federal law and international treaty for the possession and use of "chemical weapons."

When a judge denied her motions to transfer the case to state court, Bond pleaded guilty and immediately appealed. She received a sentence of six years behind bars and nearly $12,000 in fines and restitution.

A federal appeals court ultimately rejected her standing claims.

The strange case took an even stranger turn when the Supreme Court was asked to weigh in. After first adamantly claiming Bond had no right to appeal, the Justice Department reversed course. But the Obama administration still believes Bond's federal conviction was valid.

Kennedy made clear his court was not going to delve at this stage into the specific facts of the case and whether Bond was wrongly prosecuted, leaving that for a lower appeals court to sort out. Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have done that now.

"Bond, like any other defendant, has a personal right not to be convicted under a constitutionally invalid law," wrote Ginsburg. "A law beyond the power of Congress, for any reason, is no law at all."

The rest of the bench was more measured and generic, saying separation of national and state authority, known as federalism, must be respected.

"Federalism also protects the liberty of all persons within a state by ensuring that laws enacted in excess of delegated governmental power cannot direct or control their actions," Kennedy said. "When government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake."

Many conservatives had hoped the majority right-leaning bench would use the opportunity to delve further into Act Two of this legal drama: the scope of the 10th Amendment, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

In the broader political context, a bipartisan sphere of Americans worry the federal government and Congress have been overly aggressive in staking claims to disputes they believe are best left to states, especially in the criminal arena.

And it is not just felonies. Areas like gun ownership, zoning laws, environmental regulations, taxation, health care, and education standards all could be re-examined in the wake of this high court decision.

As for Bond, even though she prevailed at the high court on the standing issue, she still faces an uphill battle in the second phase of her legal fight -- getting the federal conviction ultimately thrown out on 10th Amendment grounds.

Either way, it may come too late to do her any good, since the justices sidestepped the specific 10th Amendment aspects. She is set to be freed from federal prison in West Virginia next year, likely before any future case on the merits would be resolved.

The case is Bond v. U.S. (09-1227).

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