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Rhode Island Governor Loses Battle to Keep Inmate from Potential US Death Penalty Prosecution

Posted May 8, 2012 10:10 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee says he is evaluating his options after a federal appeals court ruled he must hand over a murder defendant for federal prosecution.

Chafee had refused to surrender defendant Jason Pleau because of the possibility the feds would seek the death penalty, an option he opposes, report the Associated Press and the Boston Globe. Rhode Island does not authorize capital punishment. Pleau is currently serving an 18-year sentence in the state for violating probation in another case.

In an en banc opinion (PDF), the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments that compliance with the federal habeas statute is a matter of comity, and the governor may refuse to comply.

“The supremacy clause operates in only one direction and has nothing to do with comity,” the en banc opinion said. “That there is an overriding federal interest in prosecuting defendants indicted on federal crimes needs no citation, and the habeas statute is an unqualified authorization for a federal court to insist that a defendant held elsewhere be produced for proceedings in a federal court.”

Pleau is accused of killing a gas station manager in September 2010.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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