New York Times Editorial Board Says that When the Likely Outcome is Good Enough for our Sensibilities, the Law Should Be Ignored

Reacting to the decision made by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that Jason Pleau must be turned over to the Federal government to answer the indictment for the murder of David Main and potentially face the death penalty (though that is far from certain), the New York Times editorial board wrote that the court “was wrong to insist on the prisoner transfer”.
The reasoning in the editorial was not that the court misapplied the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, the interstate compact that mandates that Pleau be turned over. Nor did the editorial argue that the IDA itself is unconstitutional. Instead, to reach the outcome that anti-death penalty advocates favor in spite of the law, the Times’ editorial board skipped over legal reasoning altogether and asserted that, since it’s been awhile since anyone received a Federal death sentence and juries more frequently choose life sentences over death when given the option, the court should have just ignored the law…

It’s been nine years since anyone was executed for a federal crime. In the last decade when federal juries have had a choice between imposing a life sentence and the death penalty, they have chosen a life sentence by better than two to one. The government is turning this case into a pointless state-federal clash. The First Circuit was wrong to insist on the prisoner transfer.
We all understand that Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee opposes the death penalty in all cases. If the Governor wishes to take a “principled stand” on his policy preference, then the proper way for him to do so is to work for the repeal of Federal death penalty statutes, and not to demand that the state government — whose laws he is charged with faithfully executing — and the Federal courts ignore the law.
And the New York Times editorial board should try to show an understanding of the rule of law that extends beyond the attitude of “whatever we like is legal” that this editorial shows.

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Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Thank you for making these good points, Andrew. To call that editorial thoughtless would be far too kind. I was genuinely surprised by how poorly written and intellectually vacuous it was. It’s like how a 5-year-old thinks the world should work.

Mark L
Mark L
10 years ago

Good points but here is my issue with this whole process. The Federal and State Governments regularly play off each other against a criminal defendants. I view this as “resume stacking” by the Federal prosecutor – we have the wanted result, this guy will be off the streets for life by pleading to a life sentance in State court. Move on, there are other important issues/crimes to resolve. And save me the whole money incarcerating bit – the appeals in federal court over 15 to 20 years are just as costly. This is a poor business decision with limited resources to apply we should move on to other priorities instead of trying to stack the Federal prosecutors “stat sheet”.

Max D
Max D
10 years ago

“This is a poor business decision with limited resources to apply we should move on to other priorities instead of trying to stack the Federal prosecutors “stat sheet”.”
I’m confused by this statement. Who are you telling to move on? You realize that it is the governor pursuing this right?

brassband
brassband
10 years ago

Where to begin on this editorial?
How about here:
“The state’s voters abolished the punishment in 1984”
. . . Really?
I was one of “the state’s voters” that far back . . . I’m not sure I remember that vote.
Can anyone remind me?

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

Why would I -want- a local case to be taken up by federal prosecutors?! We already have laws for this sort of thing.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“If the Governor wishes to take a ‘principled stand’ on his policy preference, then the proper way for him to do so is to work for the repeal of Federal death penalty statutes, and not to demand that the state government — whose laws he is charged with faithfully executing — and the Federal courts ignore the law.”
Ah, so clear now. I look forward to your piece condemning conservative governors for challenging Obama’s healthcare law.
blog.heritage.org/2011/01/17/list-of-states-suing-over-obamacare/
If they don’t like it, they should work to change the law. Until then they need to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. That about right? Can’t have it both ways.

Monique
Editor
10 years ago

“Which governor is saying that Obamacare shouldn’t apply in one particular case but should otherwise apply to everyone else?”
I don’t know of any governors. But President Obama’s own administration is saying exactly that. Obamacare doesn’t apply to 4 million people, many of whom work for the President’s friends, but does apply to everyone else.
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/27/obamacare-not-an-enumerated-power-855882400/

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“Which governor is saying that Obamacare shouldn’t apply in one particular case but should otherwise apply to everyone else?”
Chafee is saying the death penalty should apply to everyone other than Jason Pleau? This just gets more and more confusing.

Lee
Lee
10 years ago

No analysis here, just math. Get the SOB off the taxpayers’ backs. I’d rather see the money spent on 3 squares a day and a roof over the heads of our homeless folk struggling with mental illness.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

There has always been “natural law”, that is something that is wrong and everyone knows it, it is not just a violation of statute. There are also statutes which the majority think are wrong, witness “Prohibition”.
Of course, “what everyone knows is wrong” varies with time. Perhaps we have just reached a time when a majority think the death penalty is wrong. It really wasn’t so long ago that executions were public spectacles. We have moved away from that. Even longer ago the death penalty was favored because no one wanted to house and feed the convicts. Everything changes.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“No, Chafee is saying Federal law shouldn’t apply to Jason Pleau.”
So you believe Chafee thinks everyone other than Jason Pleau should face the federal death penalty? This argument makes no sense at all.
It is, however, an interesting lens with which to view your supposed belief in federalism.

David P
David P
10 years ago

Actually I think the point is that Chafee thinks the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act shouldn’t apply in this particular case. To my knowledge he hasn’t raised an objection to the Act in general, he just wants an exception in this case because it might possibly result in a death sentence.
If Chafee were actually a federalist he might point out that there is no constitutional basis for making this offense a federal crime. This is garden variety street crime. It bears no relation to interstate commerce. The money stolen by the defendant was no longer in the bank’s posession so there is no FDIC nexus. In short this is yet another example of the tendency of Congress to federalize crimes for the sole purpose of making political points with the voters back home.

brassband
brassband
10 years ago

David P —
Actually, Gov. Chafee is arguing that the IAD DOES apply, not that it doesn’t . . .
He’s saying that by approving the IAD, Congress bound itself to the terms, one of which confers power on the Governor who has custody of a prisoner to refuse another party’s request for transfer of the prisoner.
The original panel majority (now the en banc dissenters) adopted that view and therefore rejected the DOJ’s supremacy clause argument; the IAD is itself federal law and therefore whatever powers or rights it confers on Governors is on equal footing with the authority of the DOJ.
It’s certainly an interesting position . . . and not frivolous in my view.
Cert-worthy? Who knows?

David P
David P
10 years ago

brassband:
Having read the decision at issue in the Pleau case I see that I misunderstood Chafee’s position. He is actually claiming the right to ignore a writ of habeas corpus. (I also misstated the facts of the crime. The victim was making a deposit, not a withdrawl.) It looks to me like the majority and the dissent both have a point. Lacking the time and the inclination to make an independent study of the relevant statutes and the case law arising from them, I will express no opinion on which side should prevail on the issue.
I stand by my second point however. I don’t see how this is legitimately a federal crime. If Congress would stick to crimes that are properly within its constitutional authority, this issue would never have come up.

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