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July 26, 2011

Debate continues over whether RI will turn murderer over to feds

In this post last month I reported on Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee's refusal to turn over a suspected murderer in state custody to the federal government because of concern that he would be subject to the federal death penalty.  This new local piece, headlined "Lawyers in D.C. debating death penalty in R.I. murder case," provides the latest news on this interesting federalism battle:

Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers met before the Capital Case Unit of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on Monday in the case of Jason Wayne Pleau, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in the robbery and fatal shooting of a Woonsocket gas station manager.

It is the role of the Capital Case Unit, comprising senior Justice Department lawyers, to consider whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty or life in prison for Pleau....  The capital unit, after reviewing the positions of the prosecutors and defense lawyers, will make a recommendation to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.  He can accept or reject the recommendation.

Pleau, of Providence, is charged with conspiracy, armed robbery and murder for allegedly plotting with a Massachusetts couple to rob David D. Main, 49, of Lincoln, as he tried to make a deposit of $12,500 in gas station receipts at a Citizens Bank branch in Woonsocket on the morning of Sept. 10.  Under the federal Hobbs Act, conspiracy and robbery can carry sentences of life imprisonment or death if a firearm was used in a crime that results in death.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors and lawyers from Governor Chafee’s office will square off before the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.  Last month, Chafee refused a request by Neronha’s office to transfer Pleau from the Adult Correctional Institutions to federal custody, citing the state’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty....

Public defender John J. Hardiman told prosecutors May 17 that Pleau would admit to murder and robbery in state court in exchange for a sentence of life without parole in state prison.  Six days later, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin’s office dismissed the state charges, so the prosecution is now only by federal authorities....

On June 23, Chafee announced that he would not surrender Pleau, now being held at the Adult Correctional Institutions as a parole violator, because it could expose Pleau to the death penalty.  He says the state justice system is “capable of ensuring that justice is served in this matter.”

On June 30, acting on a petition by the U.S. Attorney’s office, U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith ordered the governor to turn over Pleau to federal authorities, ruling that under the Constitution’s so-called Supremacy Clause, federal law trumps state law.  The governor said he would comply with the order.

Mann and Hoose then asked the Appeals Court to stay Smith’s order, arguing the case raised questions about a conflict between the powers of the governor in the transfer of defendants and those of federal authorities.  On July 7, a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court stayed the surrender order until it can hear arguments July 28.

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July 26, 2011 at 09:43 AM | Permalink


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So called supremecy clause? Is this supposed to be news reporting?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 26, 2011 10:53:32 AM

I think this is a terrific way for states to balance their budgets. Simply tell the feds they are going to dismiss all cases with concurrent jurisdiction. Apparently, the feds have piles of extra cash with which to prosecute state law violations - let them have it!

Posted by: Ala JD | Jul 26, 2011 12:49:29 PM

"So called supremacy clause? Is this supposed to be news reporting?"

Dumb, but protected by the so-called First Amendment.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jul 26, 2011 5:41:51 PM

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