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Leonardo Angiulo: Legal Lessons From The Salem State Stabbings

Monday, October 07, 2013


The well-publicized stabbings of late September at Salem State University raise questions about fugitives.

Salem State University was in turmoil the last part of September when a young man making bad decisions caused many people to fear for their safety. When the going go rough, like a bad guy in an old Western movie, he headed for the border. He was later found in New York State, and arrested on some serious charges from Massachusetts, including an allegation of injuring two people with a knife. Of course, unlike old westerns and Johnny Cash songs, in real life the sheriff doesn't just show up one day and haul a person back to face the judge. The law tends to make things a little more complicated. It turns out there are some very particular rules that apply to extraditions with both the federal and state governments getting in on the action.

Okay, so let's talk some practicalities. How is it that a person can get all the way to New York and still get arrested? Well, you see, there's thing called the “internet” and it allows people to exchange information. In fact, the internet has allowed law enforcement all over the country to connect through a database known as the Warrant Management System. So in almost every police car is a laptop with a database that helps officers do a nationwide search of a person's name instantaneously. All it takes is one routine traffic stop, or a random inquiry at a bus station, for a fugitive's luck to turn bad.

And things certainly can go bad. Once the arrest occurs, a person will typically be held at the local house of correction while the state where they are wanted organizes the appropriate paperwork. In legal parlence, the appropriate paperwork includes things called Governor's warrants and relies on statutes that are pretty dense. As in dense enough to include sentences like “the governor may agree with the executive authority of such other state for the interstate rendition of such person before the conclusion of such proceedings or of his term of sentence in such other state, upon such conditions relative to the return of such person to such other state at the expense of this commonwealth as may be agreed upon between the governor and the executive authority of such other state.” Which is the long way of saying the governor's office and the other state have authority to negotiate the price of transporting defendants.

The winding bureaucracy that goes into shipping someone back from another state is further proof that the founder's use of “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto wasn't just for posterity. It feels as if each state really is its own nation when it comes to the court system. For that reason the Feds have stepped in to promote regularity and fairness in interstate rendition. The Interstate Agreement on Detainers was also enacted by Congress in an effort, I suspect, to give lawyers something to do.

All joking aside, the benefit to a layer of federal standards on top of state regulations is so disputes over the return of prisoners is minimized. I'm not sure if you heard this or not, but there tends to be some cultural differences from place to place in the United States. Things that are a crime in one state may not be in another.

Take, for example, the idea of physician assisted suicide. There are some people who feel very strongly in support of this option and strong beliefs have a way of spurring activism, even in the face of such behavior being illegal as it is in Massachusetts. If there was such an activist physician engaging in proscribed behavior in Boston, they would be subject to our criminal justice system. Even if said doctor fled to Portland, Oregon where Physician Assisted Suicide is legal, they would still be accountable to the Massachusetts courts. It doesn't matter whether the behavior complained of is legal where the fugitive runs to. The only question is whether another state has issued a valid warrant and is willing to pay to ship the fugitive back.

There are many times when we get lulled into thinking that we are at the most advanced stage of human development. That everything that came before was just a quaint effort by yesterday's people to deal with the world as they knew it. Why should we have to issue Governor's warrants to bring a person to justice? Like, why can't we check his prints and send him back where he came from on the next flight out of Logan? Let's just consider, for a moment, that computer databases are very easy to manipulate. And even if you don't want to give in to paranoia, there are plenty of things that could go wrong that don't involve shadow conspiracies. What if your social security number is one digit away from a very bad person doing very bad things? And what if you are driving the kids home from soccer practice when an officer does a random license plate check and suspects you have a warrant for a bank robbery in North Dakota? I bet you'd be a lot happier that there is a long and involved extradition process for interstate transport then.

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected].


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