Blog of Rights

Federal Court Slaps Federal Prosecutor Down

By Tanya Greene, Advocacy and Policy Counsel, ACLU at 4:19pm

More support for death penalty abolitionist states to remain that way came yesterday when a federal court upheld Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee's right to refuse to transfer a state inmate to federal custody where he might be subjected to capital prosecution and potentially the death penalty. Specifically, the court held that if a governor refuses attempts by the federal government to transfer a state inmate into federal custody under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), the federal government cannot then utilize another strategy to force the transfer. In other words, you don't get two bites at the apple, Mr. Prosecutor. Big ups to Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown for helping coordinate advocacy that resulted in this win. Rhode Island abolished the death penalty first in 1852, and for good in 1984 — and they mean it.

Sixteen states have eliminated the death penalty from their roster of punishments for murder — whether it be because of the cost, concerns about unfairness, the fact that it's not a crime deterrent, objection to violence, religious and victim opposition, the immorality of state-sponsored murder, decreasing public support in general or a mixture thereof. But the federal government regularly circumvents abolitionist decisions by voters not to kill their own, and prosecutes crimes federally. This has been done in almost every non-death state including Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and West Virginia, as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Often, as in the Rhode Island case, they are crimes that have no special federal component — just the opportunity to seek death. Now we have one more weapon in our arsenal to fight this end run around state law — a governors' right to refuse to transfer custody of state inmates for federal capital prosecution has been reinforced by the First Circuit. Let's be sure to encourage non-death state governors to use this weapon.

And remember that life in prison without parole, the state sentence the Rhode Island defendant in question, Jason Pleau, will serve, is a truly miserable and extreme punishment for his crime.

You can help end the death penalty across the country. Go here to see what's happening in your state!

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