Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goliath v. David

From Milton Valencia in the Boston Globe:
According to federal court records, [Jason] Pleau and two codefendants staked out a Shell gasoline station manager, David M. Main, a 49-year-old from Lincoln, as he prepared to make a $12,542 deposit at a Citizens Bank branch in Woonsocket.
Pleau, who was waiting in hiding near the bank, shot Main several times in the head before fleeing with the money.
Pleau’s codefendants are in custody awaiting trial on federal charges. Pleau was brought before state courts for parole violations.
Pleau got 18 years for those violations.  He's willing, Valencia says in the article, to plead guilty to the robbery and the murder and accept a sentence of death in prison.  Since Rhode Island, which is where all this happened, doesn't have a death penalty, you'd think that would be the end of things.
You'd be wrong.
See, Citizens is a federally insured bank.  That means the feds can bring criminal charges against Pleau because they say he committed a crime there.  And if they want, they can go after the death penalty for the crime.  They haven't formally decided to go for death yet, though it's a given they plan to. (Don't worry about the details of federal capital law.  They don't matter here.) Anyway, they can't prosecute Pleau if they can't get their hands on him.  So they asked Rhode Island to turn him over.
Now that sort of thing is usually simple enough.
Feds want.  Feds get.
Typically, the feds get an ad prosequendum writ which just orders the state to give the guy up.  But there's another way, and it's the way the feds chose to go after Pleau.
There's this thing called the Interstate Agreement on Detainers which basically says that when State A (say Rhode Island) is holding someone State B (say the federal government*) wants to prosecute, State A has to turn him over to State B.
Unless the Governor of State A doesn't want to.
[T]here shall be a period of thirty days after receipt by the appropriate authorities before the request be honored, within which period the Governor of the sending State may disapprove the request for temporary custody or availability, either upon his own motion or upon motion of the prisoner.
Lincoln Chafee is the Governor of Rhode Island.  He figures the death penalty violates his state's public policy (or they'd have one), so he "disapprove[d] the request."  Here's the guts of the statement from his office.
"My disapproval of the federal government's request should in no way minimize the tragic and senseless nature of Mr. Main's murder," Governor Chafee said. "The person or persons responsible for this horrific act must, and will, be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. I extend my deepest sympathy to Mr. Main's family for their unspeakable loss."
"Despite the horrific nature of this crime, however, the State of Rhode Island would not impose the death penalty," Governor Chafee continued. "In light of this longstanding policy, I cannot in good conscience voluntarily expose a Rhode Island citizen to a potential death penalty prosecution. I am confident that Attorney General Kilmartin and Rhode Island's criminal justice system are capable of ensuring that justice is served in this matter."
So the feds went to court.  They said,
Hey, there's this thing about us being bigger than you.  Civil War and all.  You have to do what we say.  We want Pleau.  Now don't go fucking around with your "conscience."  We don't go for that sort of shit.  Turn him over.
OK, they didn't put it that way, but that's what they meant.  And the judge said,
And Chafee said, 
Go fuck yourself.
OK, that's not exactly what the judge said, and it isn't how Chaffee put it (at least publicly) either.  And now the case is in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.  On a very fast track.  Three sets of briefs were filed just over 2 weeks ago.
  • The feds filed.
  • Pleau filed.
  • Chafee filed.
Here's Chafee's.
Pleau - Chafee Brief
The point is simple. 
The feds say
Eeeek!!!  We may not get our way!!!  Constitutional Crisis!!!
Chafee says
The feds chose to get Pleau from Rhode Island by means of the Interstate Agreement instead of by writ.  The Interstate Agreement says that the Governor can refuse.  I.  If the feds didn't want to deal with the consequences of the Agreement, they shouldn't have invoked it.  Ain't my fault if they're stupid.
Tough noogies.
Chafee has the basic rules of the Law on his side though there are serious procedural problems.
We know that's having the law on your side is not always (not even often) enough.
They held oral argument Wednesday and you can listen to it here.
We'll see.
*The United States is a state for purposes of the Agreement.  Don't ask.  Teams of lawyers and legislators worked tirelessly to enact a law that makes the United States just another state.  It wasn't easy, but they succeeded.