SigalebLAWg

Keeping it (mostly) civil in northern-Illinois

She Tried To Poison Her Husband’s Lover, But Who Gets To Prosecute Her?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Written by David G. Sigale

An interesting case was recently heard in the United States Supreme Court, which raises the issue of the limits of federal power, and who is allowed to make the claim that the federal government has allegedly overstepped its bounds into the autonomy of States and its citizens.

In Bond v. United States, the defendant, Carol Anne Bond, was understandably upset when her husband impregnated her best friend.  Bond, a laboratory technician, stole one chemical from her workplace, and bought another on amazon.com.  Then she put the chemicals on her friend’s doorknob and car.  The friend became suspicious and called the police, who did not satisfactorily investigate.  When the friend found the chemicals on her mailbox, she called the U.S. Postal Service.  The Postal Inspectors videorecorded Bond with the chemicals, and arrested.  But instead of turning Bond over to the local police, they gave her to the Feds, who prosecuted Bond for using a “chemical weapon” under a federal anti-terrorism statute.  Bond eventually pled guilty and received a six-year sentence in a federal prison.

Bond appealed her conviction, arguing the Feds lacked the authority to prosecute her in the first place.  In legalese, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution provides that all powers not expressly given to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the States.  Typically this includes local law enforcement.  Bond argued that prosecuting her under the anti-terrorism law was an unconstitutional violation of the  Tenth Amendment, and that she should have been charged, at most, with battery in state court (the sentence would likely have been much lighter).  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia rejected Bond’s appeal, ruling that only the State can argue that the Feds are infringing on its Tenth Amendment powers.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the question of whether a criminal defendant can challenge her federal conviction by arguing the statute under which she was convicted violated the Tenth Amendment.  At first blush from the Court transcript, it appears the answer will be “yes.”  (You can read the transcript at http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/09-1227.pdf).  The Court openly questioned why a criminal defendant should not be able to raise any legal challenge to the law taking away her liberty.  Bond’s attorney noted the seeming absurdity that the Feds can prosecute someone for using a “chemical weapon” purchased on amazon.com.  One Justice noted that under the statute’s definitions, virtually any substance can be a “chemical weapon.”  The Court is expected to rule by June.

Of note is that even if the Court rules in Bond’s favor, all she wins is the right to challenge the statute.  The lower Courts can then accept or reject that challenge.  However, until a Court invalidates the law (either as applied to Bond in this case or as a whole), Bond’s conviction stands.  So while this case is an interesting example of the conflict between federal and State/local authorities, and could have far-reaching implications for future prosecutions, for Bond’s sake she hopefully received bail while the case has been on appeal, or her sentence may be completed even before her legal questions are resolved.

 

Facebook Update While Driving Leads To Fatal Crash

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Written by David G. Sigale

Years ago, the first time I had a lawsuit come across my desk involving an automobile accident where the defendant was using a cell phone at the time of the crash, I commented out loud that such conduct should not just be deemed negligent, but reckless.  Sadly, DWT (driving while talking) has almost become the norm, with texting and web-browsing being the new social ills while drving.  Of course, special places are reserved for DUI and putting on makeup while driving.

This is the first time I have seen this, though.  A man gets into a fender bender.  He gets out of the car to inspect the damage and exchange information with the other driver.  Along comes Araceli Beas in a third vehicle.  Beas should be watching the road, but is instead updating her Facebook status on her mobile phone.  He plows right into the man, severing his leg such that he bleeds to death.  They know this because Beas's Facebook page reflected the update at the same time the deceased was calling 911 about the fender-bender.  These are the allegations in a lawsuit filed by the man's daughter.

I learned the concept of defensive driving a long time ago, but it seems the dangers to avoid are in increasing varieties.    it is scary to consider that at any time, the driver behind you, next to you, or coming in the opposite direction may not even be paying attention to the act of driving.  And call me stereotypical, but is most likely to be someone young, with on average fewer years driving to begin with, who thinks it is acceptable to engage in techno-chat and social media while driving a vehicle.  It apparently makes no difference that it is now illegal (at least texting is; I think that extends to other such activities).  To make matters worse, Beas told the police her ability to see the road was already impaired by the sun.  People really need to wake up.    

The full story is here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chibrknews-suit-woman-updated-facebook-after-fatal-crash-20110214,0,2429508.story

Dispute About Meaning of Contract Terms Has Lesson For Us All

I wanted to take a break from Bears misery to discuss a recent Illinois Supreme Court opinion: Thompson v. Gordon [You can read the opinon at http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2011/January/110066.pdf. Though not the exact issue involved, my lesson from this case is to make sure you understand all terms of a contract before you sign it. If you have any questions about the meaning of a phrase, do not assume you will solve it later, or it will all be worked out. Clarify everything you are agreeing to before you put pen to paper. Of course, I tend to take that lesson from all contract disputes.

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Failure to Submit Your Evidence Can Have Devastating Consequences

It seems axiomatic for an attorney representing a client in a lawsuit that when you have evidence against your opponent, you should use it.  Sometimes the failure to do so can be for strategic reasons, such as the fear that the evidence will open the door to some other evidence that is actually damaging to your client.  Sometimes the evidence is planned for a purpose that never comes (that seemed to be the case in the Rod Blagojevich trial, when the government reportedly withheld evidence from its case in order to use it during a rebuttal that never came because the former Governor (surprisingly) never testified).  Sometimes the failure to produce helpful evidence seems to be a mystery.

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