« Can sex offenders be requires to provide all their on-line information to law enforcement? | Main | Assessing Senator Kennedy's sentencing reform legacy »

August 25, 2009

Feds decide to seek death in local(?) killing in state without the death penalty

This local story out of Vermont strikes me as especially notable because it suggests that the Obama Justice Department will be continuing the Bush Justice Department's willingness to pursue federal death penalty charges for awful crimes in states without the death penalty.  Here are the particulars:

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it would seek the death penalty for Michael Jacques, the man accused of killing 12-year-old Brooke Bennett last summer.  Federal officials said Tuesday that Jacques’ alleged rape and murder of his young niece was “especially heinous, cruel [and] depraved” and that the 43-year-old suspect has shown no remorse for the crime he is accused.

According to police, Jacques raped and murdered Bennett after luring the girl, with the assistance of another young juvenile, to his home on June 25, 2008 under the pretense that she would be attending a pool party with kids her age.  “We’re very, very pleased,” said Mary Larson, a close friend of Bennett’s family. “There are a lot of people in Randolph who are going to be shocked tonight, but also very happy when they hear this news.”

Bennett’s initial disappearance – which launched Vermont’s first-ever Amber Alert – and the later revelation that the 12-year-old Braintree girl was murdered, shocked the small town last summer where the crime took place and led to new sex offender legislation at the state level.

But the criminal case against Jacques, who was arrested days after Bennett’s disappearance, has moved slowly as officials with the U.S. Department of Justice, the prosecutors in the case, decided whether or not to seek the strongest penalty – death – against Jacques.

Though I am not familiar with all the fact of this case, I am having a hard time seeing what make this seemingly local crime a matter of federal concern other than the fact that the feds can seek the death penalty while state prosecutors cannot. 

Of course, as some regular readers know, I have suggested in some prior posts here and here, that states should rarely (if ever) bother to pursue capital cases and should instead simply request that federal authorities assume primary responsibility for pursuing the death penalty in the most horrific murder cases.  So, I am not too troubled by this expansion of federal power.  But I suspect some folks on the left categorically opposed the death penalty might not like this news.  And perhaps even some folks on the right concerned about every growing federal government might wonder why this is now a federal case.

Some related (and mostly dated) posts:

August 25, 2009 at 06:43 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Feds decide to seek death in local(?) killing in state without the death penalty:

» Blog Scan from Crime and Consequences Blog
No Delay For the Detainees: At SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston reports that the D.C. Circuit Court has denied a stay to five Chinese Muslim Uighur prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay. Lawyers for the Uighur's requested the stay until the until after... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 26, 2009 5:59:25 PM


If he committed a federal crime, then, ipso facto, it's a matter of federal concern. In a perfect world, I would be concerned about the feds prosecuting ordinary crimes. But the reality is that the fed gov't intrudes in many areas where it shouldn't be. Why in the world would I want to have unilateral disarmament? If the feds are going to be "all in", then I don't want exceptions for things I care about, like coming down incredibly hard on child-murderers.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2009 7:05:26 PM

What are the names of the lawyers who allowed this rapist and murderer to be on the street? Street justice should pay them a visit.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2009 7:20:55 PM

SC. What happened about guilty until proven innocent. From what I read the case seems weak, although I'm sure the state will reveal all at trial.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 25, 2009 7:23:08 PM

The case likely stands i for 100's of crimes by this one person over decades. Ours is a a statistical universe, unlike anything our medieval ancestors believed.

Question: Why do you never bring any methods or concepts from the intellectual culture of your training. It is the basic science of the law, punishment being the only tool of the law. Lawyers and judges know little or nothing about it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2009 7:49:10 PM

I'm confused, how is this a federal offense?

Posted by: lifer | Aug 25, 2009 8:03:31 PM

Lifer: Did he hold the little girl against her will?

Here, for your review:


This includes a description of the common law crime of kidnapping, which I am sure never gets reviewed in Prof. Berman's class, where mostly statutory crime gets reviewed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2009 9:08:03 PM

Daniel: I did not say street justice should visit the defendant. I said it should visit the criminal lover judges and lawyers that intentionally orchestrated his being on the street to rape and kill. Why? Because he is an excellent lawyer client, and no one may inconvenience or even verbally criticize a lawyer client.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2009 9:11:28 PM

Kidnapping illustrates the point that all crime rates are set, tuned, and herded by the rent seeking lawyer running the three branches of government.

This crime reached a white elite family 75 year ago. The defendant was caught, and executed within the blink of an eye. The harshest penalties were then enacted at the federal level. Kidnapping is rare in the US. No great crime, no frequent crime, no widespread crime may continue without the active forbearance of the corrupt government. In this case, this criminal cult enterprise is sophisticated. There are no bribes or sharing of the loot. There are lawyer jobs at the expense of the taxpayer robbed at the point of a gun by the government thugs who will come to collect any unpaid protection payment. The rent is armed robbery, but is are far more lucrative than single payoffs from unreliable criminals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2009 9:27:14 PM


Seriously, S.C. is a troll. Can't you do something about it?

Posted by: anon | Aug 25, 2009 10:57:10 PM

"I have suggested in some prior posts here and here, that states should rarely (if ever) bother to pursue capital cases and should instead simply request that federal authorities assume primary responsibility for pursuing the death penalty in the most horrific murder cases."

My view is quite the opposite. Very few crimes should be both capital and federal. The death penalty is mostly for murder, and murder (as nearly all crimes against individuals) is mostly a state matter.

There are a few exceptions, illustrated by the three federal executions carried out in the modern era: terrorism, crimes on military bases, and murders in the course of running criminal organizations such as large smuggling operations. But these are relatively uncommon.

Whatever the permissible scope of federal power under the Commerce Clause, that power should not be exercised to take over an ordinary criminal case. No valid reason for federalizing this case appears in the story, but of course we cannot assume that there is not some unreported reason.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Aug 25, 2009 10:57:36 PM


Seriously, the lawyer is a troll to our country. Can't you do something about it?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 25, 2009 11:35:13 PM

Kent, I think we are long past those days, and if we are going to retrench federal power, I can think of a lot of other places to start.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2009 11:48:20 PM

while its probably constitutional to assert jurisdiction under federal commerce power it still doesn't seem authorized by statue. the kidnapping statue requires actual "interstate transportation" not just use of interstate commerce. there is no case law expanding the federal kidnapping statute to include non federal land non interstate cases even if such a statue would be constitutional under raich.

Posted by: george weiss | Aug 26, 2009 5:25:01 AM

The FBI seems to believe it has jurisdiction:

"And just to be clear, before we get involved there does NOT have to be a ransom demand and the child does NOT have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours."

Question: Did the defendant cross state lines to have sex with someone under 18?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 26, 2009 7:25:37 AM

The federal hook here appears to be this language in the kidnapping statute, 18 USC 1201(a)(1): "the offender . . . uses the mail or any means, facility, or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in committing or in furtherance of the commission of the offense." I think the "luring" noted in the story involved use of the Internet, which probably fits the bill.

Posted by: JDB | Aug 26, 2009 8:15:41 AM

These cases seem to become federal matters when the headline potential rises to a sufficient height.

The rise of a national police force continues.

Posted by: John K | Aug 26, 2009 11:35:29 AM

The indictment can be viewed here.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Aug 26, 2009 12:25:15 PM

It is not just the "right" that is concerned about overreaching by federal authorities. This left-leaning sort shares Kent's views about the appropriate distribution of state and federal prosecuting authority.

This is especially true under circumstances suggesting that the primary purpose of the federal intervention is to circumvent the popular will of the state of Vermont, which, rightly or wrongly, has rejected capital punishment. I mean, is there any chance the feds would take over this case in Georgia, Alabama, or Virginia?

Posted by: Observer | Aug 26, 2009 12:43:37 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB