Brief: Supreme Court Clinic case to be argued in Washington today

It’s a good thing Yale Law School exams are self-scheduled.

Tomorrow — while their classmates are filling exam blue books in the Sterling Law Building — some law students will watch a case being argued before the United States Supreme Court. But this isn’t just any case. United States v. Rodriquez is the second case worked on by the Yale Law School Supreme Court Clinic to reach the high court since the clinic’s founding in 2006.

The clinic has been preparing briefs for months in defense of Gino Gonzaga Rodriquez, who was convicted of possessing a firearm and who the government argues should be incarcerated for a minimum of 15 years. The government’s case stems from the Armed Career Criminal Act, which stipulates that “career criminals” — those with three prior violent felonies or serious drug offenses — face extended minimum sentences.

But the Yale Law students have argued that Rodriquez’s third drug offense, in April of 2003, should not be considered a “serious drug offense” because that third conviction was initially to be only a five-year sentence, although a Washington State recidivism statute doubled that number to 10 years. A drug offense that leads to a prison sentence of 10 years or more qualifies as a “serious drug offense” under the Armed Career Criminal Act.

The Court, then, will resolve the question of whether or not Rodriquez’s third offense makes him a “career criminal” and subject to the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence.

Charles Rothfeld, a lawyer with Mayer Brown who is affiliated with the clinic, will make the argument before the nine justices on behalf of Rodriquez and the clinic.

— Paul Needham

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