Great news for the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic! The U.S. Supreme Court released an order today granting the Clinic’s cert petition in Heien v. North Carolina. The Clinic represents the petitioner in this case involving whether a police officer’s mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires to justify a traffic stop. Today’s order means that all three cert petitions that the Clinic wrote last spring have been granted. Congratulations to those who worked on the petition: Ben Chagnon, ’14, Juliana Yee, ’14 and Douglas Norton, ’13 and co-director of the Clinic, Professor Jeff Fisher.
The Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic is co-sponsoring a dinner event with Danah Boyd, who will discuss her new book, It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens next Tuesday, April 22 at 5:00 in room 190 at Stanford Law School. All are welcome, but if attending please email Lynda Johnston at email@example.com by Monday, April 21.
Pictured here from winter quarter, Melissa Runsten, 15 and Thomas Rubinsky, 14 pack their trial case to head to San Mateo County Superior Court for a jury trial the next day on their client’s eviction case. The case settled that morning, due to Melissa and Thomas’ extraordinary preparation and readiness to go to trial. Kudos to them and to the whole Community Law Clinic winter team who pitched in with jury instructions, motions in limine, voir dire questions, etc. The work paid off with another unit of affordable housing preserved!
Many of our clinical programs feature weekly “case rounds” meetings where students talk, reflect on and brainstorm their cases with their fellow clinic-mates. Don’t let these photos fool you–these students are hard at work! The photos demonstrate winter quarter Criminal Defense Clinic student teams taking a creative and lighthearted approach during rounds to counterbalance the emotions and stress that their cases can evoke. Read on for details.
During CDC case rounds meetings last quarter, students found an outlet for discussing the complex personal and emotional issues that arise from their cases. Lucia Roibal ’15 and Nida Vidutis ’15 thought of a creative way to translate the difficulties they were encountering in a domestic violence case they were defending. The team used “Jeopardy” as a platform to teach their clinic colleagues about the different standards and added difficulties placed on individuals charged with domestic violence by the legal system. For example, unlike other misdemeanors, police don’t have to have seen the event occur to make an arrest; and during trial, character evidence is more readily allowed. The students also included a category called “Dire Voir Dire” which emphasized how hard it is to choose an impartial jury in a domestic violence case. Lucia and Nida included facts like the high percentage of individuals who know someone who has been the victim of domestic violence (75%) and the staggering rate of domestic violence against women (25% of women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime).
Whereas, Nick Scheiner ’15 and Rebecca Vogel ’15 decided to tell their client’s story – a nightmare series of encounters with the DMV Safety Department and the police – through the medium of a puppet show. Using nine puppets and abandoning all dignity, the students conveyed their client’s frustration at the bureaucratic system that seems determined to string her along on the never-ending path toward getting her license back. Cassidy Rice ’15 helped with the soundtrack, which included a thunderclap and her own “evil laughter” as the client approached the Safety Department for a final conference.
Community Law Clinic students Jenny Palmer ’15, Shoshana Lucich ’14, Sheli Chabon ’15, and Meredith Firetog, ’14 are all smiles outside San Mateo County Superior Court after putting settlement agreements on the record for their clients. More housing preserved for clinic clients, and more counseling and negotiation experience for clinic students!
Last quarter Criminal Defense Clinic (“CDC”) students filed a motion to suppress evidence based on the unlawful stop, detention and blood draw of a clinic client who was stopped by police for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk–a violation of municipal code in some cities. Professor Ron Tyler directs the CDC and shares details of this case and the students’ work below.
When students Jonathan Frank ’15 and Stephany Reaves ’15 started clinic in January they had no idea that so much of their time would be spent on bicycle signs and municipal code legislative history. It began with one phrase underlined by the defense attorney who transferred the case to the CDC. The provision under which the officer had stopped our client appeared to ban only biking on sidewalks “signed for pedestrian use only.”
Jon and Stephany were assigned to the case and quickly got to work. Three sign-hunting field trips, two briefs, one and a half hearings, and one 88-page Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Study issue later, they were ready to argue that the officer’s suspicion could not have been reasonable because he had been wrong about the law. (See People v. Cox (2008) 168 Cal. App. 4th 705 [denied on other grounds].)
In the end, the judge thought the bicycle argument was cute but not worth considering. All for naught. Their next strongest argument, or so they thought, was that their client had her blood drawn without her consent, without a warrant, and without any demonstrated exigency in violation of the recent Supreme Court clarification in Missouri v. McNeely (2013) 133 S. Ct. 1552. Surely, this was a slam-dunk violation of the client’s Fourth Amendment rights. But, once again, all for naught. After testimony from the arresting officer, the judge made clear that he only wanted to hear arguments on the prolonged detention (and did not need to reach the blood draw question). The unlawfully prolonged detention won the day!
After our motion was granted, Jon and Stephany suppressed their smiles and walked out of the courtroom with their client. She was thrilled, overwhelmed, and effusively grateful–at last, she had been heard and felt justice. For their part, Jon and Stephany were appreciative that she had put her trust in them as her advocates. The prosecution has thirty days to appeal, but if all goes well the charges will be dismissed.
Religious Liberty Clinic students wrote and filed two amicus briefs last quarter, representing a diverse group of religious believers. Read on for the background and details of both cases.
Matthew Higgins ’15 and Greg Schweizer ’15 drafted an amicus brief in a New Jersey appellate court on behalf of the two leading Quaker organizations in the nation – the Philadelphia and New York Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends – and in support of a home-based Orthodox Jewish synagogue facing a zoning challenge. The synagogue had appealed a trial-court decision that dismissed, without discussion, the synagogue’s argument that its alternative form of worship was covered by federal protections for religious land use. Matt and Greg placed the synagogue’s challenge in the context of the landmark Quaker struggle for religious freedom in our country, emphasizing that relevant legal protections are “all the more important where, as here, the religious practice involved is uncommon, unpopular, or misunderstood.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Lawrence ’15 and Shae McPhee ’15 drafted and filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of The Sikh Coalition and in support of Native American inmates in their petition for certiorari in Knight v. Thompson, No. 130955. The case-in-chief involves a religious liberty challenge by inmates in Alabama who had their hair forcibly cut in violation of their religious beliefs and contrary to the practice of most other states. Writing for The Sikh Coalition, Andrew and Shae stressed that Supreme Court review was needed, because the 11th Circuit fostered a circuit split by refusing to require the Alabama prison to consider the permissive hair-length practices of other states and that such a refusal harms Sikhs in particular – a minority, and perhaps unfamiliar religion in which maintaining unshorn hair is a central practice. Indeed, as Andrew and Shae noted, Sikhs have gone to death over the violation of their right to this belief and practice.
Grace Tsou ’15, with co-counsel Per Jensen ’15 looking on, calls a client from the courthouse steps to report the terrific news that the judge denied her landlord’s application for an eviction judgment! The judge agreed with the legal analysis that Grace and Per advanced in their opposing papers. Great job, Grace and Per!
Early in the winter quarter, several students returned to the advanced Criminal Defense Clinic to see their cases through to trial. Below are highlights of their work and results.
Acquittal Win on One of Two Charges at Misdemeanor Trial
Under the supervision of Director Ron Tyler, students Matt Henry ’15 and Snayha Nath ’15 conducted a misdemeanor battery trial on January 27 through February 3. The Clinic’s client had been stopped on Caltrain by two conductors who wrongly believed that he was fare evading. After one of the conductors pushed the client, he responded by trying to free himself, and a second conductor also grabbed him. As a result, the client was charged with two counts of battery on transportation personnel. On February 3, based on Snayha and Matt’s excellent trial work, the jury returned a verdict finding the client not guilty of one of the counts of battery. Unfortunately, he was convicted on one count. Matt and Snayha are preparing for a sentencing hearing that will likely take place soon.
Students Litigate Three-Day Jury Trial
During the week of February 10, 2014, Krisina Zuniga ’15 and Connie Dang, ’15 represented a client charged with three criminal misdemeanor counts in the clinic’s third full jury trial. Their client was charged with claims of driving under the influence and causing hit and run property damage. Krisina and Connie presented the defense that a third party, not their client, was the actual driver involved in the accident in question. The trial took place over three days and involved strategic jury selection, two separate motions in limine hearings, multiple cross-examination of law enforcement and civilian witnesses, and a direct examination of their client. Krisina and Connie were successful in winning an important set of motions in limine, filed by the prosecutor midway through their trial, defeating the claim that evidence of third-party culpability should be excluded – the basis of their client’s defense.
Although the jury unfortunately returned a guilty verdict on all counts after hours of deliberation, their client expressed deep gratitude for his “day in court.” Immediately following the verdict, Krisina and Connie presented mitigation evidence to the judge who granted their proposed sentence. The team was supervised by Clinic Director Professor Ron Tyler.
Arwa BenOmran ’15 and Jordan Flanders ’15 teamed up in last quarter’s Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) to represent a client facing school district expulsion. They achieved wonderful results for their client beyond prevention of the discriminatory expulsion. Read the account below for background of the case and Arwa and Jordan’s great work.
O.G. is a 14-year-old boy with profound hearing loss, partial vision loss, and severe mental health issues. Although American Sign Language (“ASL”) is his only means of communication, O.G. has never received direct academic instruction in ASL and has had no way of communicating effectively with his hearing peers, teachers, and other school staff. In addition, although required by law, prior to YELP’s involvement O.G. had never been provided with any kind of psychological, behavioral, or mental health supports at school. Rather than providing these critical and legally mandated services, O.G.’s school repeatedly suspended him for behaviors that were manifestations of his mental health conditions and inability to communicate effectively across his language barrier.
When O.G. came to the clinic for help, things had become so severe that he was facing expulsion from his school district. Arwa and Jordan made the school district aware of its unlawful conduct and got the school district to agree to immediately stop the expulsion proceedings, acknowledge O.G.’s mental health conditions, and take steps to identify an appropriately therapeutic and ASL-rich school environment so that O.G. may attend school and benefit from his public education.
Following these initial negotiations, Arwa and Jordan helped the family search for a school placement that would address O.G.’s complex needs. After two months of further negotiations, O.G. ‘s school district agreed to fund an out-of-state therapeutic and residential placement that serves children with deafness and co-occurring mental health conditions. After four months out of school and years without academic instruction in his language, O.G. will finally have opportunities to communicate with teachers and peers in an ASL-rich environment that addresses his academic, social, and emotional needs. O.G. is excited about this opportunity to learn and catch up with his hearing peers, and hopes to return home in a year to attend the California School for the Deaf.