The mail service may be scrutinizing your packages a little more closely after a poison letter sent to Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi tested positive for the toxin ricin yesterday. Sen. Wicker and his staff have not taken leave due to this threat, as the letter was intercepted at an off-site mail screening facility.
Although no suspect has yet been named in this attempt to poison by mail, the perpetrator may answer to the following federal crimes when apprehended.
Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction - 18 USC § 2332a
The letter addressed to Sen. Wicker bore no return address and tested positive twice for the poison, ricin, which can kill if inhaled or ingested, The New York Times reports.
This is not the first time the Capitol has been hit with the threat of ricin. In 2004, Senator Bill Frist and his staff had to be decontaminated after ricin was confirmed in a Senate mailroom.
With this experience, federal criminal laws are well equipped to deal with threats involving poison and biological agents, including ricin and anthrax, even when it is through the mail.
The federal law prohibiting use of weapons of mass destruction makes it clear that it applies when mail facilities are used in perpetration of the attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The ricin used in the letter to Sen. Wicker is considered a weapon of mass destruction by this statute because it is a "weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector."
Under this criminal act, the perpetrator may face up to a life sentence in federal prison.
Transnational Acts of Terrorism - 18 USC § 2332b
Ricin is derived from castor beans, the same ingredient used for making castor oil, and is highly lethal even in minute amounts.
When an attempt is made to send a deadly substance through the mail, the sender can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.
Under this law, a convction for the attempt to kill Sen. Wicker with the deadly poision ricin amounts to terrorism, and can be punished with a maximum life sentence in federal prison. Any prison terms the alleged terrorist would receive would also be required to run consecutively and there is no possibility of probation.
Attempted Murder - 18 USC § 1113
The person who attempted to send the toxic parcel to Sen. Wicker can also be charged and punished under the federal statute for attempted murder.
If found guilty, the poison penman would serve from 7 to 20 years in federal prison, in addition to the other charges.
News outlets at time of writing also report a letter with "suspicious substances" was sent to President Barak Obama and possibly two other Senators as well.
- Sen. McCaskill says there's a suspect in possible ricin-tainted letter (USA Today)
- Obama Ricin Letter: Poison-Tainted Mailer To President Intercepted At Screening Facility (Huffington Post)
- Terrorism News (FindLaw News)
- Sentencing Law FAQ (FindLaw)