Pennsylvania woman argues for local criminal defense trial
A Pennsylvania woman’s criminal trial for allegedly attempting to poison her husband’s lover has led to a full-on analysis from the nation’s highest court. The woman, who is accused using an arsenic-based chemical to try to poison the girlfriend, is challenging a major legal tenet as part of her criminal defense. She and her attorney argue that she has been improperly prosecuted for federal crimes because of government overreach. Instead, the woman should have simply been brought up on local charges, and federal prosecutors should have never assumed control of the case, they say. The federal aspect of the case comes from the fact that the woman allegedly violated the 1998 Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, a treaty that governs the production and application of chemical weapons at locations throughout the country. The law was originally designed to prevent terrorists from obtaining access to chemical weapons. In this case, though, the woman was employed by a chemical maker near Philadelphia, where she obtained the toxic chemical through theft. She also purchased another poison through an Internet site, which she used in 24 different poisoning attempts on her husband’s girlfriend, according to prosecutors. The woman was convicted after pleading guilty. She served a six-year term in connection with the case; if she had been sentenced under local law, she would have only been in custody for a maximum of two years. Ultimately, the woman’s attorneys argue that she should not have been prosecuted under the chemical weapons treaty because she was not engaged in an act of terrorism. They contend that this was a local matter. The Supreme Court will be forced to decide whether Congress has the right to implement such treaties, since they can be used to unfairly prosecute defendants such as this woman. Defense attorneys have the responsibility to pursue every avenue available for clearing their clients’ names, even after a prison term has been served. In this case, the appeal has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Without a culture of courtroom fairness – and the courage to question dubious legal decisions – criminal defendants do not receive the protection they deserve.