The U.S. Supreme Court has granted a writ of certiorari in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, an appeal by a legal U.S. resident who was deported to Mexico following two drug-related offenses. The NYU School of Law’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the petitioner.

The case involves Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a legal Mexican immigrant who pled no contest to charges of having one Xanax tablet without a prescription after an earlier guilty plea for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. Both offenses are misdemeanors under the law of Texas, where Carachuri-Rosendo lived. The government, however, sought to deport Carachuri-Rosendo, arguing that, under federal law, the marijuana possession could have been characterized as a serious crime.

The Center on the Administration of Criminal Law’s brief asserted that the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to treat Carachuri-Rosendo’s second offense as a recidivist felony, despite the state prosecutor’s decision not to pursue such a charge, demonstrated a disregard for prosecutorial discretion in a manner that “violates basic policy imperatives” and hinders plea agreements. The brief further argued that the decision created a disparity in treatment between defendants in state as opposed to federal courts, since it applied to state prosecutors’ charging decisions but not those of federal prosecutors, who try far fewer criminal cases. Finally, the center maintained that, depending on where a defendant’s immigration removal proceedings are initiated, his or her right to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment may be violated.

“The exercise of discretion in making charging decisions reflects an assessment of the facts, circumstances, and available resources by the prosecutor, the actor in the criminal justice system with the highest competence to exercise that discretion in a full and considered manner,” the brief said. “Granting certiorari in this case provides the best vehicle for this Court to ensure that the crucial role that such discretion plays in the fair and efficient administration of criminal justice is respected by the lower courts.”

Posted on December 14, 2009