June 23, 2011

Has Any Governor Refused to Turn a Suspect Over to the Feds?

Monique Chartier

... 'cause that's what Governor Chafee has done today.

Governor Chafee declined on Thursday the U.S. Government's request for temporary federal custody of Jason W. Pleau, charged with murder in the case of a Woonsocket gas-station owner killed on the steps of a bank.

Here is the statement from the governor's office:

Mr. Pleau is incarcerated in the Adult Correctional Institute (ACI) and currently stands untried for the September 20, 2010 robbery and murder of David D. Main. A transfer of Mr. Pleau to temporary federal custody would potentially expose him to the death penalty, a penalty consciously rejected by the State of Rhode Island, even for those guilty of the most heinous crimes. ...

[Gov's full statement after the jump.]

Is this a common occurance? I'm not a fan of the death penalty but does he even have the right to do this? The first impression is that this is a country to country refusal to turn over a suspect (i.e., France refusing to turn someone over to the US because we have the death penalty) but that is erroneous; this is a matter of federal vs state purviews within the United States.


... ahem, I swear I saw William Jacobson's commentary at Legal Insurrection on this matter, in which he characterizes Rhode Island as "France", only after this post went up.

Professor Jacobson also points out that this is not the first federal law that Gov Chafee has declined to observe.

Ever since Independent and former Republican Linc Chafee was elected Governor of my home State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations last fall, Chafee has implemented an interesting twist on states rights by refusing to participate in federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Now Chafee has taken it one step further, refusing to turn over a murderer to the feds because of the mere possibility that the defendant could be subject to the death penalty:


Further to my exchange with Warrington, the ProJo reports that US Attorney Peter Neronha

said it was too early to determine whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty in the case.

So Governor Chafee is acting pre-emptively to shut out a course of action against a man charged with murder that may or may not even be on the table.

Yet, with his refusal to participate in the Secure Communities Program, the Governor is not willing to pre-empt the distinct possibility of crimes against innocent residents of the state by undocumented immigrants with outstanding federal warrants. (Tangent: in the Governor's mind, it's fine for citizens and legal immigrants taken into police custody to be screened for federal warrants, etc, but illegal aliens should inexplicably be held harmless from such a measure.)

Does anyone else see inconsistency here??? How about pre-emptiveness across the board or no pre-emptiveness at all? Phrased another way, can we average residents please have the same concerned foresight from the Governor as someone in custody for murder?

Mr. Pleau is incarcerated in the Adult Correctional Institute (ACI) and currently stands untried for the September 20, 2010 robbery and murder of David D. Main. A transfer of Mr. Pleau to temporary federal custody would potentially expose him to the death penalty, a penalty consciously rejected by the State of Rhode Island, even for those guilty of the most heinous crimes.

'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.'

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More needs to be known. Murder is not a federal crime. So, why do the feds want him?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 23, 2011 10:01 PM

Hi, Warrington. Good question. The ProJo reports that the suspect was charged on the state level with murder and robbery and then later charged by the feds with a gun crime. Apparently, it is the latter which presents the possibility of a federal death sentence.

The US Attorney has specifically stated that no determination has yet been made as to whether the death penalty will actually be sought in this case.

Posted by: Monique at June 23, 2011 10:41 PM

True, the federal authorities have not said they will seek the ultimate penalty. They have claimed jurisdiction based upon the fact that the crime occurred on the premises of a federally insured institution.

Posted by: Mike Kind at June 23, 2011 10:47 PM

There's a law known as the Hobbs Act that makes it a Federal crime to commit a crime of robbery and/or violence that interferes with interstate commerce, and bank robberies are generally accepted by the courts as meeting the IC criteria (tinyurl.com/6h24qes). Then, I beleive, there's another law that makes use of a firearm in the commission of a Federal crime into a separate charge.

Posted by: Andrew at June 23, 2011 11:11 PM

I just find it interesting that Chafee will claim that state law has precedence over federal law when it is convenient for him.

No concerns about that federal health care law, that's ok, but when the feds ask for their turn at an (alleged) criminal, no can do, eh?

Posted by: Patrick at June 24, 2011 12:01 AM

I don't think Chafee can prevail if the suspect is really wanted by the Feds in this case.
He again demonstrates the aggravating empty headed tendency to public displays of so-called high minded principles while he doesn't mind pulling slimy gutter tricks to avoid paying his fair share of taxes.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 24, 2011 4:54 AM

As much as I have no sympathy for Gov. Fredo, I don't see why we need a federal law against "murder that interferes with interstate commerce." That isn't what the Constitution meant by "regulate commerce...among the several states."

Laws like this are part of the Progressive program of establishing an all-powerful national government. This is not the American way.

Posted by: BobN at June 24, 2011 7:22 AM

On the state level, you have corruption and incompetence. On the Federal level, you have bureaucracy and gross waste. Pick your evil.

Posted by: Dan at June 24, 2011 8:05 AM

Kilmartin can score one by dropping the state case. As soon as the state cuffs go off the federal cuffs go on and Loser Linc gets it in the shorts.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at June 24, 2011 10:24 AM

Kilmartin would look pretty weak if he simply dropped the state case. What if the feds screw it up, and this guy ends up free?
You have to have a pretty competitive ego to run for any statewide office, regardless of political orientation, and unless Kilmartin is being promised something, I don't see how he goes for this. Spite of the governor doesn't sound like an effective way to run a justice system.

Posted by: bella at June 24, 2011 10:38 AM

They're playing hockey in Hell, because I agree with Bella on this one.

Besides, to add to my point above, I don't believe that federal insurance of bank deposits should exist,either.

Posted by: BobN at June 24, 2011 10:43 AM

Posted by Dan
"On the state level, you have corruption and incompetence. On the Federal level, you have bureaucracy and gross waste. Pick your evil."

Corruption on the Federal level, oh we never heard of that! Why isn't Eric Holder going after the Black Panthers? The FBI finally caught Whitey Bulger after all the FBI agents he could "turn in" are in jail, retired, or granted immunity. The FBI ratted out another informant to Whitey Bulger, knowing that Whitey would "bump him" (Richard "Richie" Castucci).

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 24, 2011 1:34 PM

I'm glad that (in contrast to the knee-jerk reactions in some other places) commenters here are taking the federalism issue seriously. Why IS this a federal crime?

Posted by: James Kabala at June 24, 2011 8:23 PM

This is a Federal crime for the same reason stealing goods from an interstate shipment is.Interstate commerce in one case and Federal insurance in the other.
The Hobbs Act has never been successfully challenged.
Let's take the case of drug crimes-one can be charged by the State or Federal government-the reasoning isn't alwayd clear.Believe me,I dealt with this routinely.
In some cases Federal laws can remove the offender for a much longer period of time than taking the case locally can.
Some crimes like those involving immigration,the postal system,or espionage are wholly within the purview of the Federal government.
The instant case being discussed here is definitely one that can go either way.
This "governor"has again taken an attitude evincing complete disregard for the rights of crime victims and their families.His miserable response to t
he woman who was raped and kidnapped
by Marco Riz in Warwick is a glimpse into Chafee's demented thought process.
This case is no different-Chafee has no way of understanding a person going to work and supporting his family being murdered in cold blood because he and his never have to worry about such things in thier privileged environment.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 25, 2011 4:12 AM

The issue is actually very simple. Rhode Island does not have the death penalty. Transferring the case to the Feds is an attempt to subvert the state Legislature. If RI wants the death penalty if should establish it; if not, it is not proper to hand a case to the Feds to seek the death penalty.

Posted by: jack Arse at June 25, 2011 11:53 PM
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