In Chicago, a man wearing a Joker mask set fire to a police SUV in broad daylight. The problem is that Timothy O’Donnell has a prominent tattoo on his neck reading “Pretty.” That was one of the ways that police were able to identity him for arrest. The case however highlights the expansive claim of federal jurisdiction being used by the Justice Department.
I wrote earlier about the identity of those who are fostering the rioting and arson. Not Russians but homegrown anarchists, Antifa members, and opportunists.
O’Donnell is shown opening the gas cap on the police vehicle and later sitting on the street watching the vehicle burn.
The police found the mask in his apartment and he reportedly waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the crime.
So why is this a federal crime? The reason appears to be 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.
So this guy burned a car within the state. He lives within the state. His victim is within the state. But it is still claimed as a federal interstate crime. For those who still value federalism, the broad interpretation would effectively gut state police powers.
O’Donnell has been charged with a federal count of arson. That is by definition a crime that is overwhelmingly treated as a state offense. He could now face five and twenty years in prison if convicted.
The U.S. Attorney announced that anyone involved in destructive behavior – such as setting fire to a police car – should know that federal law enforcement will use all tools available to us to hold them accountable.” The question is whether this jurisdictional claim is appropriately part of that tool box. It should bring a challenge from the defense in my view, though courts have allowed for expansive interpretations. The case could also be reframing as domestic terrorism later by the prosecutor to fit the President’s call for harsh charges and sentences. That would combine an expansive federal jurisdictional claim with an equally expansive interpretation of terrorism law.
That is no joke if you value state authority over police powers.