Monday, January 14, 2013

Goliath - One More Time

Both of you who've been waiting with bated breath: Your wait is over. The Supremes decided.

Actually, they decided not to decide.  Which is, of course, a decision.

This is about Jason Pleau.  And it's about little Rhode Island and the Big Bad Wolf Department of Justice and how the Law of Rule trumps the Rule of Law yet again to the surprise of just about nobody who pays attention to these things, though Michelle Smith, writing for the AP notes that Lincoln Chaffee, Little Rhodie's governor, was "visibly shaken" when he heard.

Here's the story.  Jason Pleau, Jose Santiago, and Kelley Lajoie allegedly plotted to rob David Main of the receipts from a gas station where he worked.  As the robbery supposedly went down, the three are said to have ended up taking some $12,542 as Main was about to deposit it at branch of Citizens Bank. In the process, it's alleged, Pleau shot and killed Main.  Charged under Rhode Island law, Pleau can get, and is willing to accept, LWOP, death in prison.  But Citizens is a federally insured bank and the feds decided that they want to try Pleau.  And they want to have him executed.

The standard way the feds would proceed is to file for a writ which would require Rhode Island to turn Pleau over.  For whatever reason, they took another approach, trying to get Pleau through the Interstate Agreement on Detainers.  The thing is that the IAD allows the governor of the state holding the prisoner sought to refuse.  Which Governor Chaffee, knowing that RI doesn't have a death penalty and not wanting to see the feds prosecute just to notch a killing on the holster of their hypodermic needle.

So the feds took Pleau and Chaffee and Rhode Island to court.  Federal court, of course.  Goliath v. David I called it.  

No surprise, Goliath (that's the feds) won Round 1.  So the little guys with the slingshot appealed, and won and then lost in the court of appeals. Rounds 2 and 3.  Goliath Wins, I wrote.  The next stop was the Supreme Court, the 9 guys and gals in the black dresses in the big courthouse in DC.

Who, as I said at the top of the page, today decided not to decide.

The feds had been screaming that if David won there would be a constitutional crisis.  Hell, there was already a constitutional crisis which forced the litigation, they said.  That's nonsense, of course.  Just as it's nonsense that the feds won.  They didn't even come close to having the law on their side.  But they were the feds.  In federal court.  The elephant in the room.  Goliath.  The Law of Rule.

And there was David.  Tiny. Little Rhodie.  The smallest state.  With a Governor from neither major party.  (Albeit with amicus support of the National Governor's Association, seven states attorneys general, the ACLU, the Cato Institute.  And moral support from this blawg.)

The thing about David and Goliath is that it's a cool story and a noteworthy one precisely because David wins.  Man bites dog.

That's not the way it usually happens.  Not in this world.

When the berobed ones in DC decided not to hear the case (without explanation or noted dissent, but that's usually the way and doesn't mean much), that left things as they were after Round 3.

Which means it's over.  The feds get Pleau.  To keep him.  To try to kill him.

Oh, Pleau has already filed a motion in federal court asking the judge to take death off the table as a possibility because Rhode Island has no death penalty.  But you know where that's going.

On the other hand, Pleau probably won't be sentenced to die.  Most death penalty cases end up with lesser sentences and there's no particular reason to think this will be the exception (though it's certainly possible). 

Sadly, nobody in Congress is arguing that not pursuing this sort of nonsense is one way they could simply and usefully shave a few bucks off the budget.


  1. Why would the Feds want to try this case? What's the motivation and what do they hope to gain?

    This is an armed robbery that unsurprisingly segued into manslaughter. The perp is going to prison, and that's that. Why would the Feds even begin to care about a crime that, to the nation and especially the news media, is a very tiny blip on the RADAR.


    1. Maybe because the local US Attorney wants to prove he's got the cojones to do it. Certainly because Rhode Island doesn't have a death penalty, and the feds like to bring capital cases where they otherwise wouldn't be possible just as they like to go after medical marijuana growers and dispensaries.

      Ultimately, because they can.