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In dismissing indictment, judge rules man possessing deadly ricin didn't break law
2016 federal courthouse
Sidney O. Smith Federal Building & United States Courthouse - photo by Erin Smith

A Fannin County man charged in the U.S. District Court’s Gainesville division with having ricin, a poison, without permission had his indictment dismissed by the court.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story ruled the statute William Christopher 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.

Gibbs was charged in a February 2017 indictment of 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 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.

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.

Story wrote in his conclusion that he appreciates the potential dangers of having these types of materials without permission.

“Equally, though, the Court takes very seriously the principle that citizens ought to have fair and clear warning of the conduct for which they can be held criminally responsible. It falls to Congress to write criminal laws, or to amend them if they yield unfair or unwanted results,” the judge wrote.

Story also ordered that Gibbs be released from custody immediately.

Gibbs’ attorney did not return a request for comment.