October 18, 2011

Wrong and Happy About It

Let it never be said that I won’t fess up when I get something wrong.

Back in August I blogged about a fascinating case up in Rhode Island, where the state’s governor, Lincoln Chafee, refused a request from the federal government to turn over an inmate in state custody to face trial on federal charges that could carry the death penalty. Invoking a little-known clause of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, Chafee exercised his right to refuse based on Rhode Island’s long stance against capital punishment. The Feds didn’t like is, so they filed a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum to drag the defendant to federal court. Chafee and the defendant sought to have the writ quashed.

At the end of my blog post, I wrote:
In the end, I expect the First Circuit (and maybe the Supremes afterwards) to hold that Chafee has to turn [the defendant] over. But I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised if it turns out otherwise.
Guess what? I’m pleasantly surprised. Last week the First Circuit affirmed Chafee’s ability to refuse to comply with the writ, on the grounds that once the Feds invoke the IAD, they are bound by its terms, including the provision allowing the governor of the state in possession of the inmate to refuse to turn him over. It was a split 2-1 decision, although I did not find the dissent compelling. However, that fact could be a springboard for the Feds to seek en banc review from the entire court or take it to the Supreme Court.

Which, sadly, I expect they will do. The case has an issue that probably should be settled by the Supreme Court, but one would think that in this time of runaway deficits that the Feds could find something better to do with limited resources than spend (potentially) millions of dollars to try, convict, and execute a guy who will die in a Rhode Island prison anyway.

Sure, there are state sovereignty issues at play, too, but as demonstrated by the latest crackdown on state licensed medical marijuana operations, the Obama administration doesn’t give a shit about that. Still, money talks and bullshit walks, right? Yeah, but not when the blood lust runs high and an execution is in the offing.

What will the en banc First Circuit or the Supreme Court do with the case, if the Feds push it further? I don’t know. The majority’s opinion is in depth and compelling, but I still find it hard to believe that it will end up being the last word on things. So I’ll keep my original prediction in play, of the Feds seek further review – this defendant will eventually get turned over to them for trial. Either I’ll be right or, again, pleasantly surprised. I’ll take those odds.

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