Months after a North Georgia man had his ricin possession case dismissed for a statutory reason, lawmakers have put forth a bill to fix the loophole that allowed the dismissal.
H.R. 1986, known as the “Effective Prosecution of Possession of Biological Toxins and Agents Act of 2019,” was introduced March 28. It was referred to the subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security May 3.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, is a co-sponsor of the bill.
“Several years ago, (the Department of Health and Human Services) re-formatted its regulations, which caused certain toxins — including ricin — to not be covered by the criminal code. … Since the citations in the current statute are off, individuals who would otherwise be guilty of a crime — unregistered possession of ricin — have been moving to dismiss cases and federal prosecutors have had to argue the problem is a scrivener’s error, but several cases have been affected already — including one in my district,” Collins wrote in a statement.
Collins referenced the prosecution of William Christopher Gibbs, who was charged in a February 2017 indictment with possessing “a biological agent and toxin, to wit, ricin,” without the proper registration under the Public Health Service Act.
According to Gibbs’ motion to suppress evidence, Gibbs went to the emergency room on Feb. 3, 2017 seeking medical attention.
“As a result of his having sought medical attention, the authorities were notified of the possibility of criminal acts of the part of Mr. Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs did not authorize any such disclosures,” according to the evidence suppression motion.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story ruled the statute Gibbs was accused of violating “cannot be read to criminalize the unregistered possession of ricin.”
“The Court does not suggest, however, that the conduct alleged against (Gibbs) would not violate some other criminal law, whether state or federal; but (Gibbs) cannot be convicted under this one,” Story wrote in his Sept. 21 order.
In the order to dismiss the indictment, the federal government admitted that ricin is not “among the biological agents and toxins” referenced in the statute.
“But, the Government argues, Congress intended to criminalize the unregistered possession of ricin … and its omission from the statute was merely a ‘clerical error,’” according to the order.