Another angry little man with a big chemical weapon (updated 8/10/15)

United States v. Fries, No. 13-10116 (9th Cir. Mar. 30, 2015).

John Singer Sargent, Gassed (courtesy Imperial War Museum)

John Singer Sargent, Gassed (courtesy Imperial War Museum)

Todd Fries resurfaced the driveway of Myles and Karen Levine. The Levines were dissatisfied with Fries’s work and stopped payment on their check to him. In retaliation, Fries attacked the Levines’ house twice. The first time, he littered the Levines’ front yard with dead animals; painted a swastika on their house; lit a pile of debris in their backyard; and poured motor oil, paint, grease, and feces on their driveway. The Levines then moved to a new house, which Fries also attacked—this time with a homemade bomb emitting a cloud of chlorine gas that required evacuation of the neighborhood. 

The government prosecuted Todd Fries under the federal statute criminalizing the use of a chemical weapon. Just like the guy who attacked an Albany hospital with mercury, Fries argues that his indictment should have been dismissed under Bond v. United States, which limited the scope of the federal chemical-weapons statute. 

With this argument, Fries has a peculiarly steep hill to climb. That’s because the Bond Court cited Fries’s prosecution as a legitimate use of the chemical-weapons statute—a law, the Court observed, that was meant to criminalize “acts with the potential to cause mass suffering.” Because that’s a fair description of Fries’s chlorine-bomb attack, the federal statute applies to his conduct and is a constitutional exercise of congressional authority.

UPDATE (8/10/15): Apparently Fries was separately charged and convicted of possessing “unregistered destructive devices”—that is, conventional rather than chemical bombs. He was convicted on these destructive-device charges and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, a term that was to be partly consecutive to Fries’ chemical-weapon conviction. Fries challenges this sentence on a number of different grounds, all of which the Ninth Circuit rejects in a published opinion