Former Rio Arriba sheriff Tommy Rodella will serve the remaining five years of his sentence for violating a motorist’s civil rights, after a federal judge rejected his argument that a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated a portion of his sentence.
Through attorney Susan Clouthier, Rodella argued late last year that a June 2019 ruling in United States v. Davis that a portion of federal law offering a supplementary definition of a “crime of violence” was “unconstitutionally vague.”
In March 2014, Rodella and his son, Thomas Rodella Jr., chased down a motorist in a personal vehicle in a road rage incident before the then-sheriff—in plainclothes—pulled out the driver while brandishing a gun and slammed his badge into the man’s face. Deputies arrested the man.
Rodella’s use of a firearm during a crime of violence tacked on an additional mandatory seven years to his three year sentence for violating the man’s constitutional rights.
Judge James Browning agreed with U.S. prosecutors that the portion of federal law applied in Rodella’s case was the primary definition of “crime of violence” and not the supplementary definition found to be unconstitutional. Browning issued an order Jan. 23 dismissing Rodella’s motion to vacate his sentence, but acknowledging that the ruling could be applied retroactively.
Rodella unsuccessfully appealed his case in 2015. In early 2019, prior to the United States v Davis ruling, he attempted to vacate his sentence based on claims his trial attorney was ineffective and that the prosecution failed to disclose a 911 call beneficial to his defense.
Prosecutors stated that his attorney received and signed for the 911 call transcript, and that the trial attorney’s decision against using it as evidence was beneficial to Rodella’s defense.
Contrary to the U.S. Attorney’s Office argument that Rodella was too late to present the amended motion to vacate, Browning did rule that the new Supreme Court decision justified the filing.
The court held a final hearing on the motion to vacate Jan. 24, though the order to dismiss the proceedings was completed the day before. Rodella, who is married to former state representative Debbie Rodella, is currently incarcerated in a federal prison in Texas.