Rod Rosenstein Is Going To The Supreme Court And Washington Is Buzzing

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will make his debut at the Supreme Court on April 23, representing the U.S. government in a case concerning reduced criminal sentences and the federal sentencing guidelines.

The case, Chavez-Meza v. U.S., asks how much detail judges must provide when reducing a convict’s sentence due to an amendment to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

Prior to his appointment as the number two official at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Rosenstein was chief federal prosecutor in Maryland for 12 years. As such, he is a natural candidate to argue an appeal concerning retroactive sentencing reductions.

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Though the solicitor general and his deputies generally represent the federal government before the high court, senior Justice Department officials are extended the opportunity to argue a case as a matter of courtesy. Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Janet Reno are among recent DOJ leaders to present oral arguments during their tenures.

Rosenstein will appear in formal morning dress, as is traditional for U.S. government attorneys appearing before the justices, according to CNN.

The dispute was occasioned when Aduacto Chavez-Meza pleaded guilty to conspiracy and intent to distribute methamphetamine. He was sentenced to an 11-year prison term in 2013, pursuant to the guidelines.

The guidelines were amended in 2014, and lowered the recommended prison sentence for defendants with convictions and profiles similar to Chavez-Meza’s. Accordingly, he asked a court to reduce his sentence through a provision of federal law that allows trial judges to retroactively adjust sentences due to changes in the guidelines. The judge agreed and reduced his sentence to nine and one half years, slightly higher than the decrease Chavez-Meza sought and the guidelines recommended.

The judge did not provide reasoning for his reduction. Chavez-Meza argues judges must provide detailed explanations for their sentencing reductions, so appeals courts can review and assess those decisions. Federal appellate courts are split over this question. Four found explanations are required and three found they are not.

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