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January 14, 2013

SCOTUS, by denying cert, ends Rhode Island's fight to prevent federal capital prosecution

There was a notable death penalty decision of sorts in this morning's Supreme Court list of certiorari denials. As reported in this AP piece, the Justices this morning "said it won't stop the federal government from detaining and prosecuting a Rhode Island inmate who faces the possibility of execution, despite arguments that doing so violates the rights of a state without the death penalty." Here is more from the AP report:

Pleau is currently awaiting trial in federal court in the killing of a gas station manager who was shot as he approached a Woonsocket bank to deposit money. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Pleau, 35, initially had been in state custody. After federal prosecutors charged him, Gov. Lincoln Chafee refused to turn him over, citing the state's rejection of capital punishment.

But an appeals court ruled last year the state must surrender Pleau to federal officials, despite the state's insistence that the federal government is violating a legal agreement that authorizes the state to deny a request to transfer a prisoner.

A series of prior posts below provides a lot more background concerning this interesting case (including in the last post my prediction that the "Justices may be disinclined to get into this notable fight" that got all the way to an en banc First Circuit ruling):

January 14, 2013 at 03:31 PM | Permalink


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Out of curiosity, this could have worked the OTHER way in another state. Say Texas wanted to try him because they wanted to ENSURE the death penalty was on the table, and they didn't want the feds to take the case because they felt the feds wouldn't have done ENOUGH to ensure a death penalty possibility. What then?

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 14, 2013 4:53:28 PM

That's a curious question Eric Knight & I wonder if the professor who covered this matter here and at Prawf Blag would have a theory. Me personally, it would seem the Supremacy Clause would hold, but given the 8A local discretion argument put forth (one that I as a death penalty opponent felt weak though I am sympathetic with the idea on policy grounds) would Texas have a case? Maybe.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 15, 2013 10:26:52 AM

I think you're talking about me.

I don't see why it should come out any differently. Either case really hinges on the intersection of the IAD and the All Writs Act. I'm not expert enough on the IAD to know whether this case came out correctly but I don't know why it should be different if the roles are reversed.

Note also that in the role-reversal hypothetical, Texas eventually gets to punish the defendant as it sees fit, despite the federal government's leniency. This is as it should be.

Posted by: Michael J.Z. Mannheimer | Jan 15, 2013 12:40:01 PM

Actually, there is a real case along the lines Eric suggests: the Unabomber.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California thought the Unabomber's schizophrenia was a sufficient mitigating circumstance to warrant plea-bargaining to life in prison. The Sacramento County District Attorney did not.

The wrinkle is that California has a statute that takes the "double jeopardy" protection further than the Constitution requires. Under this statute, the state does not prosecute a person for the same crime that the feds have already prosecuted him.

But for this statute, it probably would have come out as Prof. Mannheimer says.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 15, 2013 12:51:46 PM

As before, thanks for input.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 15, 2013 1:48:48 PM

It would appear as though
robbery effecting interstate commerce;
conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce; and
possessing, using, carrying, and discharging a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, death resulting at a federally insured bank,
are not overcome by the IAD.

"Dear Governor Chafee,
My brother was murdered by Jason Pleau. Our family is hoping for justice for David.
It is time for you to stop wasting taxpayers money on this attempt to protect a murderer
from being properly prosecuted by the federal system …If your son Caleb was shot in the head,
in broad daylight while doing his job you would be horrified, as we were! … You have made a terrible
situation much worse for our family! We should have never had to go through all this! He would have been
arraigned a long time ago, if it wasn't for your agenda. Please stop this now!..."~~Deborah Smith via NBC 10 I-Team.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 15, 2013 2:55:50 PM

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