Trump Anthrax Scare

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FACTS:

Trump Jr.’s wife, Vanessa Trump, was the first to open one of the letters that caused the whole anthrax scare. She opened it, and began feeling nauseous and coughing a lot.  The letter was addressed to Trump Jr., and stated, “You are an awful, awful person. I am surprised your father lets you speak on the TV. You the family idiot. Eric looks smart. This is the reason why people hate you. You are getting what you deserve. So shut the f*** up.” Vanessa was taken to the hospital following opening the letter, and she was released without any injuries. The powder inside the letter was found to be harmless after testing it.

ISSUES:

  • How are mail threats prosecuted under the relevant federal statute?

 

LAW:

  • The relevant statute is 18 U.S.C.A §876 – the statute says that whoever knowingly deposits in any post office or knowingly causes to be delivered any communication containing any demand for ransom shall be imprisoned not more than 20 years.
    • It goes on to say that whoever deposits or causes to be delivered any communication containing any threat to kidnap or threat to injure the person shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years or both.
  • Challenges to the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C.A §876 have been unsuccessful:
    • Application of threat and hoax statutes to defendant, who mailed twelve hoax anthrax letter to President and other federal and foreign officials was not in plain error contravention of well-settled First Amendment law. [U.S. v. De Vaughn, 694 F.3d 1141 (2012)]
  • The elements of the offense have been defined by case law:
    • In the context of anthrax scare, defendant’s mailing of envelope containing cornstarch meant to resemble anthrax, but containing no written message, constituted “communication,” as required to support conviction for mailing threatening communication; defendant intended to convey message of fear, fright and alarm, and ultimately wanted to frame boys whose messages were typed on the envelopes. [U.S. v. Zavrel, 384 F.3d 130 (2004)]
  • Mailing threatening communications and communicating false or misleading information regarding the presence of a biological weapon led to the conviction of defendant Marc McMain Keyser for 51 months in prison [U.S. v. Keyser, 704 F.3d 631 (2012)]
    • On appeal, the court affirmed in part but reversed the portion of the ruling that imposed a four-level enhancement for convictions that resulted in substantial government expenditures
    • Furthermore, the court of appeals found that the district court erred in considering government’s expenditures in response to other mailings for which Keyser was not convicted
  • In U.S. v. Matrangelo (567 Fed.Appx. 510 (2014), the defendant challenged her conviction for mailing a threatening communication in violation of 18 U.S.C. §876(c)
    • The 9th circuit court of appeals held that the jury instructions contained no error.
    • There, the defendant argued that the jury instructions should’ve included that the defendant acted with the specific intent to threaten and intended to threaten physical as opposed to general harm
    • With respect to the specific intent requirement, the instructions stated that the “defendant [must have] intended to communicate a threat.
    • With respect to the physical as opposed to general harm the court found that the statute does not distinguish between threats causing fear of immediate injury and threats of future harm

DETAILED FACTS:

On February 12, Vanessa Trump was taken to a hospital after opening the suspicious mail. Prosecutors charged Daniel Frisiello, from Beverly, Massachusetts with mailing a threat to injure a person as well as false information and hoaxes for sending threatening letters. All five of the letters that were sent contained a powdery substance that investigators found to be harmless. Prosecutors were led to Frisiello as a potential suspect after a search of his trash and his social media posts. Authorities say that Frisello could be sentenced to up to 10 years if found guilty.

OTHER FACTS:

  • The big scare of white powder in envelopes started in 2001 when the anthrax attacks became known
  • The anthrax letters were mailed over the course of several weeks beginning on September 18, 2001, which contained anthrax spores and were sent to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators (killing 5 people and infecting 17 others)

ARTICLE LINKS:

http://zeenews.india.com/world/donald-trumps-daughter-in-law-vanessa-trump-hospitalised-anthrax-scare-turns-out-false-2080736.html

MEDIA:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgIsEPkWaxk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCBKRpykPeI

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