Gov. Chafee Wins Showdown: Feds Can't Execute Wayne Pleau

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 14, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Circuit Court of Appeals declared Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee the victor in an over-three-month standoff with federal prosecutors on Thursday. Chafee refused to surrender accused murderer Jason Wayne Pleau for federal prosecution because a federal sentence could carry the death penalty, and Rhode Island rejects the death penalty.

In a matter of first impression, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal government is entitled to choose between the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD) and an ad prosequendum writ in seeking custody of a state prisoner for purposes of a federal prosecution, but that once the federal government has put the gears of the IAD into motion, it is bound by the IAD’s terms.

Pleau is accused of the armed robbery and murder of a gas station manager in Rhode Island. After Pleau agreed to plead guilty to state charges on the robbery and murder, and to accept a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the federal government filed an IAD request in an attempt to prosecute Pleau under federal law.

The IAD provides that, after a request for temporary custody has been made, "there shall be a period of 30 days ... within which period the Governor of the sending State may disapprove the request for temporary custody or availability."

As Pleau had already indicated his willingness to plead guilty and accept a life sentence in the case, Gov. Chafee inferred that the only additional punishment the government would pursue was the death penalty. Refusing to allow the government to "ride roughshod" over Rhode Island's conscious rejection of the death penalty, Gov. Chafee denied the IAD request.

The feds responded to the IAD rejection with a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum, which Pleau, in turn, challenged.

The district court granted the government's habeas request, holding that Pleau lacked standing to challenge the issuance of the writ. The district court further noted that Gov. Chafee could deny an IAD request, but he "could not disobey a federal court's writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum as to that prisoner."

The First Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that an ad prosequendum writ that follows an IAD request is a written request for temporary custody under the IAD and, as such, is subject to the governor's right of refusal.

The Jason Wayne Pleau case presents federal and state policy conflicts literally as a matter of life-and-death. Do you think the First Circuit Court of Appeals made the correct decision?

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