Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sentencing: NInth Circuit Decision Reversed by Supreme Court: U.S. v. Rodriquez, 128 S.Ct. 1783 (2008)

U.S. Rodriguez, 128 S.Ct. 1783 (2008) Statutory interpretation is admittedly complex, particularly when federal and state sentences apply to an individual defendant. In U.S. v. Rodriquez, 464 F.3d 1072 (2002) the Ninth Circuit attempted to determine the appropriate sentence for a defendant with multiple convictions in state and federal court. Applying the Armed Criminal Career Act (ACCA) 18 U.S.C. 922, the court concluded that the sentence enhancement for Rodriguez should only be five years for a defendant convicted twice for burglary and three prior serious drug offenses. The decision cited with enthusiasm its prior case interpreting this statute, U.S. v. Corona-Sanchez, 291 F.3d 1201 (9th Cir. 2002) as precedent for reducing the sentence. The Supreme Court granted review in U.S. v. Rodriquez, 128 S.Ct. 1783 and reversed the Ninth Circuit. Here is the Supreme Courts comment: The Ninth Circuits holding that the maximum term was five years contorts ACCAs plain terms . . .The Ninth Circuits interpretation is also inconsistent with the way in which the concept of the maximum term of imprisonment is customarily understood by participants in the criminal justice process." The balance of the Supreme Court decision repudiates entirely the rationale of the Ninth Circuit reducing the appropriate punishment. The Supreme Court not only reversed the Ninth Circuit decision, but the Justices clearly dismissed the ability of that court to understand criminal law as practiced in state and federal courts. In addition, the Supreme Court comments approach disbelief in the Ninth Circuit rationale for its decision. The effect of the Supreme Court decision in Rodriguez erases eight years of erroneous law enforced by the Ninth Circuit based on the Corona case (and its progeny) decided in the year 2000. All the cases cited in the Ninth Circuit decision in Rodriguez based upon the Corona Sanchez rule were obliterated. What is the cost of this to the California public?

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