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NEW: U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Hear Appeal For Pleau

Monday, January 14, 2013


The United State Supreme Court has delivered a crucial blow to Govenor Lincoln Chafee in his battle with the federal government over the case of Jason Wayne Pleau.

In a decision handed down this morning, the Supreme Court declined a petition for writs of certiorari filed by Chafee and the defendant Pleau, refusing to consider the pair’s challenge to a decision made by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that would require Rhode Island to transfer Pleau over from state to federal custody, where prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Pleau is accused of murdering a Lincoln man outside of a Woonsocket bank in 2010 and had already agreed to serve a life sentence without parole under state law.

Chafee, an opponent of the death penalty, sought to keep Pleau in state custody but lost in a key decision back in May when the First Circuit Court of Appeals decided, 3-2, to reject his argument that, under a federal law known as the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), he had the legal right to refuse to turn over Pleau.

That ruling overturned an earlier panel decision that had supported Chafee.

The IAD governs the transfer of inmates among states and with the federal government. The technical legal question in the case concerns whether the United States can independently use another legal mechanism – a writ of habeas corpus – to obtain custody of Pleau despite the Governor’s invocation of the IAD to refuse to transfer a prisoner from state to federal custody.

At the heart of the matter is the federal government’s likelihood to seek the death penalty for Pleau.

Rhode Island abolished the death penalty in 1852 and has not carried out an execution since that time. For that reason, Chafee has sought to keep Pleau out of federal custody.

“After reviewing the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals en banc opinion, and weighing the state’s considerable interests, I have decided to appeal the 1st Circuit’s decision," Chafee said last year. "Given the close vote of the full court, which demonstrates a genuine split in the interpretation of the law, the State of Rhode Island must seek to protect both the strong states’ rights issues at stake and the legitimacy of its longstanding public policy against the death penalty. My in-house legal staff has been handling this case and will continue to do so as part of their routine duties at no additional cost to the taxpayers of Rhode Island."

Chafee has called the case a matter of states’ rights but, with this setback, it appears the federal trial against Pleau will soon move forward.

“I am obviously pleased with the decision of the United States Supreme Court not to review the First Circuit’s entirely correct ruling requiring the State of Rhode Island to surrender custody of Mr. Pleau to the United States for trial in federal court,” United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha said today. “As we have been since September of 2010, we are prepared to move ahead with this case immediately and without delay.”


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