We recently discussed the “Joker” case in Chicago where Timothy O’Donnell was arrested for arson after his tattoos were identified by police after he burned a police vehicle. Now, a Tacoma woman, Margaret Aislinn Channon, 25, has been arrested for burning five vehicles in part due to her equally recognizable ink. There is one other similarity. They are both not only charged with arson, but charged in federal court. I continue to be uneasy over the broad federal jurisdictional claims underlying charges that traditionally are matters for state and local prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran announced that Channon was caught on multiple cameras May 30 using an accelerant lit like a blowtorch to burn five police vehicles. Here are two of those pictures:
However, it was her tattoos that sealed the identification. It turns out that she was a missing person in Texas in 2019 and her tattoos were described in detail.
Police took that flyer and matched it with this picture from the protests:
It is another example of the perils of ink for anarchists and antifascists.
Channon now faces up to 10 years and that is only counting the arson charge. There is still the possibility that the Administration will try to convert some of these cases to domestic terrorism cases.
Here is my problem. As I mentioned in the Joker case, the federal government is making a jurisdictional claim that would effectively negate federalism principles in criminal law. In Chicago, the federal prosecutors appear to be arguing that the police car belongs to the city government, which buys vehicles in interstate commerce. That is a pretty breathtaking construction that makes the ruling in Wickard v. Filburn (1942) looks modest in comparison. In that case, Roscoe Filburn was growing wheat to feed his chickens, but the Supreme Court still defined the activity as interstate commerce because his crops reduced the amount of wheat on the open (and national) market.
Defendants like Channon face the likelihood of longer sentencing in the federal than the state government, though torching five police cares will get you a hefty sentence in either system.
The concern from a civil liberties standpoint is that the federal government could circumvent state and local laws and mete out its own punishment for intrastate crimes. Thus, if a state did not support a president’s harsh view of a given activity, federal prosecutors would effectively federalize the crime. The dual jurisdictional problem has been raised repeatedly by defense lawyers, particularly in civil rights prosecutions are that virtually identical to state charges. The double jeopardy claims raised in such challenges have generally failed. This however is a straight up federalization of an arson crime that occurred within a state and only damaged state property. That would seem a viable issue to be raised by Channon and other like her who are charged in federal court.