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October 14, 2011

Split First Circuit says state can refuse to turn over murderer to feds for capital prosecution

As detailed in this local report, the First Circuit "ruled Thursday that Rhode Island does not have to surrender accused murderer Jason Wayne Pleau to federal prosecutors who asked to have him tried in federal court where, if convicted, he potentially could have faced the death penalty." Here are the details:

In June, Governor Chafee refused the prosecutors' request for Pleau to face trial in U.S. District Court for allegedly plotting with a Massachusetts couple to rob a man as he tried to make a bank deposit.  Pleau is also accused of killing a gas station manager outside a Woonsocket bank.  Chafee said his refusal was based on what he said is Rhode Island law's rejection of the death penalty.

Lawyers for Pleau appealed a court order by U.S. District Judge William E. Smith in June that said the state had to surrender him to federal custody.  In August, the three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals he granted Chafee's bid to become a full party in the appeal.

On Thursday, The appeals panel held in its opinion that the federal government is bound by the terms of a law that govern transfer of inmates between states.  In August, Chafee's chief counsel told the appeals court that prosecutors had chosen that route and must adhere to all its terms, including a provision that a governor has the authority to deny a request for custody.

The full First Circuit ruling in US v. Pleau, with both the majority and dissenting opinions, can be found at this link.  It will be interesting to see if the feds seek en banc review or even Supreme Court review of this interesting decision.

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October 14, 2011 at 08:29 AM | Permalink


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The only real question is whether the Solicitor General determines to seek certiorari. (Petitioning the First Circuit for en banc review seems almost worthless; there are only six active judges and we already know that two of them voted to grant the writ. They would need every other judge on the First Circuit to join with Judge Boudin to vote to rehear the case and ultimately affirm the district court's judgment. It seems like the only thing that would come of a petition for rehearing would be that Judge Howard, and maybe Chief Judge Lynch, would add dissents to denial of rehearing en banc, making it clear that the First Circuit denied rehearing by an equally divided court.)

In any case, if the United States seeks certiorari, it is almost inconceivable that the Supreme Court will not take the case. I would be very surprised if the case were even set for oral argument; a summary reversal -- likely unanimous -- seems much, much more likely.

Posted by: guest | Oct 14, 2011 11:47:47 AM

"Too much mercy... often resulted in further crimes which were fatal to innocent victims who need not have been victims if justice had been put first and mercy second." {A. Christie}

Put justice first! (Prov 1:3)

Posted by: adamakis | Oct 14, 2011 3:30:29 PM

The dissent clearly has the better of the argument. This is results-oriented crapola born of a desire to help out a murderer. These pro-criminal judges need to be called out for what they are, lawless "jurists" who will bend over backwards to help a criminal.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 16, 2011 1:43:02 PM

This is a fairly technical opinion, and the feds could have avoided it by not making a tactical error. If anything, the blame lies at the feat of the US Attorney. But then again, Federalist, you can use political rhetoric.

In the future, if you wish to say that one side has the "better" argument, you might want to actually read the opinion, and then explainn which parts of it are wrong based on precedent or statute. This is what lawyers do. Often it seems confusing to lay people when they do this because they don't wish to read the applicable cases or statutes.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 17, 2011 9:45:29 AM

@ S.cotus:

What's to be said that Judge Boudin didn't already say in his dissent: the majority (1) opened up a circuit split; (2) read an Act of Congress in a manner that's difficult or impossible to square with the reading the Supreme Court has given it; and (3) has endorsed the startling proposition that state governors may defy federal policy in the name of state sovereignty (in the absence of any clear indication in the text of the IAD that Congress intended to displace the common law writ to bring prisoners to trial). It's also hard to take seriously the argument that the U.S. Attorney made a "tactical error" for which his office bears "the blame" if it is correct that no governor has **ever** dishonored an IAD request like this.

Posted by: guest | Oct 17, 2011 3:49:26 PM

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