This past spring quarter, Advanced Criminal Defense Clinic students Megan Byrne ’14 and John Butler ’14 assisted in the representation of a 39-year-old Three Strikes client. The client was sentenced to 133 years in prison after pleading guilty to the robbery that constituted his third strike. At the trial phase, the client had numerous rights violated, including his right to effective assistance of counsel. The client’s trial counsel failed to complete an adequate investigation for the Romero hearing—a hearing that could have gotten the client’s previous “strikes” removed so that his sentence would have been considerably shorter. His appeal was then severely limited by his trial counsel’s failure to perfect the appeal, and then by his appellate counsel’s failure to raise cognizable appeal issues.
John Butler and Megan Byrne
Megan and John assisted in the client’s appeal by conducting the investigation that the client’s trial attorneys should have completed. They have written a state habeas brief addressing this investigation, along with the failures of the client’s attorneys mentioned above. Throughout the process, they have had the pleasure of working closely with the client–who has remained extremely enthusiastic about their work–speaking with him in both person and through letters.
Religious Liberty Clinic students Kate Falkenstien ’15 and Gabe Schlabach ’14 drafted an amicus brief in a merits case now pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. The clinic’s brief was filed on behalf of the nation’s oldest women’s prisoner advocacy group – the Women’s Prison Association – and in support of a male Muslim prisoner’s challenge to wear a short beard in accordance with his faith. Kate and Gabe argue that federal laws governing the exercise of religion in our nation’s prisons protect women as well as men, and that any rule the Court develops for religious accommodation of inmates should account for the unique situation in which devout female prisoners find themselves. For these women, religion is a source of great strength and hope but can also be misunderstood by prison officials – particularly where unfamiliar minority faith practices, such as headscarves or unshorn hair, are concerned.
Jordan Rice ’15 and Dalton Rodriguez ’15 drafted an amicus brief in another prisoners’ rights case, this time in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The clinic’s brief was filed on behalf of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Christian Legal Society, and the Hindu American Foundation. The case involves a Department of Justice challenge to a state prison’s refusal to offer kosher meals based, in part, on claims that such meals are too expensive due to the perceived inability to refuse them to inmates who might not have a corresponding religious need. Jordan and Dalton respond that prisons, like any other public entity charged with assessing religious liberty claims – e.g., in the amnesty or draft context – may test the sincerity of those seeking a religious accommodation, provided the issue explored is whether the person believes what he says and not whether it’s true.
Community Law Clinic students can be found most Thursday mornings at the “mandatory settlement conference” calendar for the next week’s eviction cases. Here, Cody Venzke ’15 and Lauren Harding ’15 negotiate in San Mateo County Superior Court on behalf of their East Palo Alto tenant client. As a result of their work, the tenant was able to remain in her single family home, and the landlord agreed to necessary repairs.
Advanced Criminal Defense Clinic students, Jennifer Williams (’14) and Katherine Lin (’14), are currently representing a client on his direct appeal to the State of California after his conviction on a felony drug charge. On appeal, the questions presented were: (1) whether his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice was violated; and (2) whether the state improperly interfered with his plea deal, thus rendering his public defender ineffective.
Weeks before his trial, Jenny and Katherine’s client asked the trial court judge to allow him to discharge his public defender and hire his own attorney. He explained to the court that he had finally raised enough money from family and friends to hire his own lawyer, and that he had already contacted two different attorneys who agreed to represent him in his trial, one of whom was ready to come in that same afternoon. Despite clear California case law protecting a defendant’s constitutional right to preferred counsel, the trial court denied his request. Then, on the day of trial, he tried to accept a plea deal the State had offered him. Again, despite California law to the contrary — and over the rigorous objection of both the District Attorney and the defense – the trial judge refused to accept the plea deal. He was sentenced to more than a decade in county jail.
Jenny and Katherine have filed the opening brief on these issues, and are currently awaiting the state’s opposition.
Educate Our State!, a statewide, grassroots organization of parents and community members who support public education in California, recently released a report authored by the Youth & Education Law Project. Students Adam Sieff ‘14, Kip Hustace ‘15 and Samantha Lefland ‘15 worked on the report which examines diversion of local property taxes away from schools and how those diversions hurt disadvantaged kids the most.
The work of Community Law Clinic students was featured last week in a televised NBC news segment, “Bay Area Proud.” Check it out here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Nida Vidutis and Lucia Roibal, Winter 2014
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).
Rebecca Vogel and Nick Scheiner, Winter 2014
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.