US Supreme Court [official website] Justice Stephen Breyer rejected a stay application [text, PDF] Thursday evening by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee [official website] attempting to prevent the release of alleged murderer Jason Pleau to federal authorities. Chafee has been arguing since last year [JURIST report] that he has the authority to have Pleau tried in state court, rather than have him face a potential death penalty in federal court. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 3-2 Monday against Chafee's argument that a governor is allowed to personally prevent a prisoner transfer under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD) [text]:
One can hardly imagine Congress, whether in approving the IAD or at any other time, empowering a state governor to veto a federal court habeas writ—designed to bring a federally indicted prisoner to federal court for trial on federal charges—because the governor opposed the federal penalty that might be imposed if a conviction followed. If we were now determining Congress' intent afresh, the improbability of such an intention would be apparent. ... Were Pleau and Governor Chafee to prevail, Pleau could be permanently immune from federal prosecution, and the use of the efficient detainer system badly compromised. He is currently serving an 18-year term in Rhode Island prison and, if the writ were denied, might agree to a state sentence of life in Rhode Island for the robbery and murder. Even if Pleau served only his current 18-year term, needed witnesses for federal prosecution could be unavailable two decades from now. Instead of a place of confinement, the state prison would become a refuge against federal charges.Breyer, as presiding justice over the First Circuit, denied the stay without comment. Chafee maintains he will appeal [Providence Journal report] to the full Supreme Court.
Pleau was sentenced to 18 years in prison for violating his probation after being accused of killing a gas station attendant in the process of a robbery. No state charges were filed, as Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin [official website] decided that the US Attorney's Office had jurisdiction for the crime beyond the probation violation. However, should federal proceedings not occur, Pleau has agreed to plead guilty and accept a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Rhode Island was one of the first states to abolish the death penalty, abolishing it in 1852. In April its New England neighbor Connecticut repealed the death penalty [JURIST report]. JURIST Guest Columnist Ben Jones, Executive Director for the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty [advocacy website], argued that Connecticut's repeal of the death penalty is the beginning of a national trend of states moving away from capital punishment [JURIST comment].