United States v. Rodriquez

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Gino Gonzaga Rodriquez
LOCATION: U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay

DOCKET NO.: 06-1646
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 553 US 377 (2008)
GRANTED: Sep 25, 2007
ARGUED: Jan 15, 2008
DECIDED: May 19, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Charles A. Rothfeld - on behalf of the Respondent
Kannon K. Shanmugam - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

When Gino Rodriquez was released from prison on supervision, he promptly absconded and was later found with $900 cash, heroin and a gun. Prosecutors argued that Rodriquez was subject to the Armed Career Criminal Act, which applies to those convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm if they have a total of three previous convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses. Rodriquez had two California burglary convictions. Prosecutors argued that the third required conviction was supplied by Rodriquez's Washington drug offenses. Although none of the three drug convictions, on their own, was considered "serious," the second and third were repeat offenses and therefore punishable by ten-year sentences sufficient to qualify as serious under the federal career criminal law.

Question

Does a crime qualify as "serious" for purposes of the federal career criminal law when the underlying offense is not considered grave, but carries a high prison sentence because it was not the first?

Media for United States v. Rodriquez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 2008 in United States v. Rodriquez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 19, 2008 in United States v. Rodriquez

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

You can see how anxious I am to make this announcement.[Laughter]

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent Rodriquez was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Under the Arms Career Criminal Act, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years if he had three previous convictions for a violent felony or serious drug offense.

At issue here is whether two of respondents, three convictions in Washington state court for delivery of a controlled substance were serious drug offenses.

Serious drug offenses are defined as drug trafficking offenses "for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed by law".

Under Washington law, the maximum sentence for delivery of a controlled substance was five years for a first offence but 10 years for subsequent offenses.

Thus, under these Washington statutes, respondent could have been sentenced to 10 years for the two convictions in questions but the sentencing court did not impose the maximum term.

The Ninth Circuit held that these convictions did not qualify as serious drug offenses because the maximum term of imprisonment should be determined without reference to recidivist enhancements.

Contrary to the Ninth Circuit's holding, however, the convictions in question fall within the literal meaning of the definition of the serious drug offense, that is they were drug offenses for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years was prescribed by law.

For this reason and others set out an opinion filed today with the clerk, we reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit.

Justice Souter has filed the dissenting opinion in which Justice Stevens and Ginsburg have joined.