Foley Hoag Lawyers Author Amicus Brief in First Circuit Case Over the Transfer of an Inmate to Face Death Penalty Charges

March 22, 2012

Foley Hoag LLP filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on behalf of a group of civil liberties and criminal defense organizations supporting Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s legal efforts to prevent the transfer of murder suspect Jason Wayne Pleau to federal authorities to potentially face the death penalty. 

Pleau is incarcerated in Rhode Island and, if state authorities charge him in connection with murder, he could be sentenced to life in state prison. Rhode Island abolished the death penalty in 1852 and has not carried out an execution since then.

In October 2011, a majority of a three-judge panel of the First Circuit ruled that once Governor Chafee exercised his right to refuse to turn Pleau over to federal authorities under a federal law called the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), the federal government could not then obtain custody of Pleau using a writ of habeas corpus. In December, the full appeals court agreed to rehear the case.

The IAD governs the transfer of inmates among states and with the federal government. The majority opinion in Pleau’s case held in October that “once the government has put the gears of the [IAD] into motion, it is bound by the IAD’s terms, including its express reservation of a right of refusal to the governor of the sending state.” The amicus brief supports that view, challenging the federal government’s contention that “it may refuse to transfer a prisoner to State custody but that a State may not refuse to transfer a prisoner to Federal custody.” Foley Hoag lawyers wrote that if the federal government were able to do an end-run around the IAD by issuing a writ every time a governor refused to transfer a prisoner, “the Federal government would receive the benefits of the IAD, while evading its obligations and frustrating the ultimate objectives of the scheme.”

The organizations on the brief included the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union; ACLU of Puerto Rico; ACLU of Maine; ACLU of Massachusetts; New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union; Office of the Federal Defender for the Districts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; and Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico.

The Foley Hoag lawyers on the brief included Anthony Mirenda, Daniel Marx, Jennifer Behr and Eric Haskell, with assistance from paralegal Judy Gallant. Oral argument in the case is scheduled to be heard April 4, 2012.

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