NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 80, Number 1

April 2005

Application of the Federal Death Penalty Act to Puerto Rico

Elizabeth Vicens

A New Test for the Locally Inapplicable Standard

Ever since Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States following the Spanish-American War, Congress and the courts have struggled with applying federal law to the island. Puerto Rico has been treated alternately as a state, territory, or something in between for purposes of federal law since the island became a commonwealth in 1952. In this Note, Elizabeth Vicens argues that in determining whether a federal statute should apply to Puerto Rico, in the absence of a clear statement by Congress, courts should inquire whether the law contradicts an overriding local interest. This test is based on the language of the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act, which states that federal laws that are “not locally inapplicable” shall be applied to the island. After supporting the proposed model of statutory interpretation, Vicens applies the test to a recent controversial application of federal law to Puerto Rico: the application of the Federal Death Penalty Act. Vicens argues that under her model, the First Circuit should not have applied the Federal Death Penalty Act in United States v. Acosta-Martinez. The Note concludes that this test will aid Congress and the courts in a murky area of law, as well as help to improve U.S.-Puerto Rican relations.