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Thursday, 10 May 2012


Joseph Sanderson

Much as I applaud Gov. Chafee's willingness to stand publicly against the death penalty, I don't think he's going to win this one, and I can't fault the Federal Government for behaving as it has.

In a lot of areas - civil rights is an important one - the Federal Government needs to be able to override the opposition of powerful interests in a state, interests that might persuade a Governor to reject a detainer request. The fact that the Feds choose to proceed via the IAD initially - the most courteous way to start the process - ought not to bar them from relying on the habeas corpus ad prosequendam method in the state of state intransigence. Looking at this case, Pleau strikes me as the kind of defendant who is unlikely to be sentenced to death; I think the Feds are fighting on this as much to avoid setting a precedent (either administrative or judicial) that governors can frustrate federal prosecutions as anything else.

While I think it would be admirable if states had the power to deny extradition until the death penalty is taken off the table (which would remove the unfair advantage defendants who run away to Canada or Europe get in this respect), the legal theory Chafee is using would mean that states could deny extradition to the federal government for *any* reason. If an Arizonan cop decided to shoot some illegal immigrants and Arizona wanted to let him off with a slap on the wrist, Brewer would be able to block a federal civil rights trial until witnesses could not be found simply by holding the shooter on state charges for a while. It's a tool that could easily be abused, and unfortunately, the value in reducing death penalty prosecutions is outweighed by the negative impact elsewhere.

Of course, the federal government could wait until a would-be defendant is out of state custody and arrest him themselves, but that might needlessly delay trial for decades. This is one anti-death penalty legal strategy that does more harm than good. It also lacks legal merit, for the reasons that the 1st Circuit majority identified.

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The StandDown Texas Project

  • The StandDown Texas Project was organized in 2000 to advocate a moratorium on executions and a state-sponsored review of Texas' application of the death penalty. To stand down is to go off duty temporarily, especially to review safety procedures.

Steve Hall

  • Project Director Steve Hall was chief of staff to the Attorney General of Texas from 1983-1991; he was an administrator of the Texas Resource Center from 1993-1995. He has worked for the U.S. Congress and several Texas legislators. Hall is a former journalist.
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