Puerto Rico abolished the death penalty in 1929 and, a generation later, made it unconstitutional. The island’s Bill of Rights expressly decrees that “the death penalty shall not exist” there. But as a commonwealth of the United States, the island is subject to federal law, including the death penalty for many federal crimes.
This week, in a federal court there, the Justice Department is seeking the death penalty in the trial of Lashaun Casey, who is charged with the 2005 murder of an undercover narcotics officer during a drug deal.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has recognized that pursuing capital punishment in jurisdictions that do not allow it in state prosecutions is a sensitive matter. In 2011, he addressed this issue in a policy memo saying that, in such instances, the federal interest must be “more substantial” than the interests of the state or local authority.