Yale Law School Clinic Argues Case in U.S. Supreme Court, January 15

Yale Law School students who have been working for months on a case involving mandatory minimum sentencing for a convicted felon will see that case argued before the highest court in the land on January 15.

In United States v. Rodriquez, Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic is representing Gino Gonzaga Rodriquez, who was convicted of possessing a firearm and who faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, if the U.S. government prevails in the case.

The case relates to the federal Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), which holds that an individual possessing a firearm is subject to a mandatory 15-year sentence if he has three “predicate offenses”—that is, been convicted of three violent felonies or serious drug offenses. Rodriquez had two predicate offenses when he was convicted of a drug crime in the state of Washington. At issue in this case is whether that third drug offense qualifies as a “predicate offense” under the ACCA. The government will argue that it does. Charles Rothfeld of Mayer Brown LLP will argue on behalf of the Clinic and Rodriquez that it does not.

“This case presents a question regarding how the term ‘serious drug offense’ should be interpreted,” said third-year Yale Law student Paul Hughes. “The ACCA defines it as a drug offense for which the maximum prison term is 10 years or more. Rodriquez’s drug conviction in Washington called for a maximum sentence of five years, but a Washington State recidivism statute doubled that to 10 years. The Supreme Court will decide whether such state recidivist enhancements are relevant to ACCA.” 

United States v. Rodriquez is the second case Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic has argued since the Clinic started up in the fall of 2006. Clinic students work on real-life legal cases under the supervision of experienced Supreme Court litigators, including Yale Law faculty with Supreme Court expertise and Charles Rothfeld and Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown.

Both Rothfeld and Pincus are former Assistants to the Solicitor General, and each has been involved in more than 100 cases before the Court. When Rothfeld delivers his oral argument January 15, the students who worked on the case will be in the courtroom watching, along with Cece Glenn, the Spokane lawyer who successfully argued the case in the Ninth Circuit.

“I could not have provided the expertise in research or preparation of briefs without the genuine commitment and extreme effort that the students at the Yale Law School Clinic have exhibited under the supervision of Charles Rothfeld and Andrew Pincus,” said Glenn. “Their advocacy and experience have given me a basis upon which to feel comfortable that the best effort possible has been provided to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Rodriquez, whose case impacts not only Mr. Rodriquez but many others in the same circumstance.”

Yale Law School faculty members who oversee the work of the Supreme Court Clinic are Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law; and Brett Dignam, clinical professor of law and supervising attorney.  Sarah French Russell, director of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School and a lecturer in law, also took part in the Rodriquez case, commenting on drafts of briefs, providing ideas, and conducting research. Senior Clinic members who participated in drafting and research on the case are third-year students Madhu Chugh, Ethan Davis, Paul Hughes and Michael Kimberly. Third-year students Jonathan Donenberg and Fred Liu and second-year students Seun Adebiyi, Catherine Barnard, Jennifer Harris, Amy Kurren, Joshua Lee, Jeremy Licht, Jose Minan, Joseph Minta, Michael Murray and Katherine Wilson-Milne assisted with research.

To read more about Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic and the United States v. Rodriquez case, visit www.yale.edu/supremecourtclinic.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325