The Mississippi Court of Appeals visited the University on Thursday as part of its Court on the Road program. Throughout the year, as part of this program, the Mississippi Court of Appeals visits college campuses and other locations to hear oral arguments on pending criminal appeals.
Third year law students of the Criminal Appeals Clinic, under the supervision of clinical director Professor Phil Broadhead, researched and briefed the cases to prepare for these 15-minute oral arguments.
Hearing cases assigned by the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals delivers opinions for cases already settled by law, but with disputed facts. Those decisions stand if the Supreme Court declines further review.
One of the cases argued by third-year law students, Phillip Summa and Valerie Moss, was on behalf of Andrew Acie Adams.
In Adams’ initial case, he was tried and convicted on Feb. 10, 2015 for possession of 250 grams or more but less than 500 grams of marijuana after his Oct. 30, 2013 arrest in Gulfport. He was charged as a second or subsequent drug offender as well as a habitual offender,
Adams was sentenced to 16 years in prison without parole or early release. Summa and Moss argued that investigators lacked probable cause to search the defendant’s vehicle and that the affidavit used to obtain a search warrant was legally insufficient. Special Assistant Attorney General Laura Tedder represented the Attorney General in arguing against the appeal.
“We’ve been preparing for two weeks, doing mock oral arguments and legal research, preparing for opposing council disputes,” Moss said.
Attendee Gerald Waltman, who is interested in the appeals process and plans to be a litigator, took the advantage of the rare opportunity to learn about the process.
“The most interesting thing about Valerie and Phillip’s arguments was how polished and precise their arguments were,” Waltman said.
Law students Jay Clay and Derek Cantrell argued on the behalf of Anthony Jefferson, who was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison for possession with intent to deliver more than 1 kilo but less than 5 kilos of marijuana and 40 years for conspiracy to possess marijuana. As a habitual offender due to two California drug convictions, Jefferson was ordered to serve his sentences concurrently, or at the same time, and without possibility of parole.
Clay and Cantrell based their oral arguments on lack of evidence, contradicting witness statements and testimonies, harmlessness to include hearsay, the defendant’s violation of the right to confront witnesses, or the confrontation clause, as well as the fact that the package was neither addressed nor in possession of the defendant.
“What I found was that preparation was key because we were prepared, anticipated and ready for everything the court threw at us,” Clay said. “Dealing with the pressure of the fact that if I made a mistake, I get to go home, but my client has to go to jail for 60 years was most difficult. Once I got up, outside of my racing heartbeat and shaking palms, I zealously advocated on behalf of my argument.”
Second-year law student, Cissy Baron attended the session to support her classmates.
“It was interesting to see how the fine details of a case make up the basis for arguments,” Baron said.
Because these oral arguments were actual appeals’ cases, a speedy trial is required and the judges have to deliberate and deliver their opinion in a timely manner, within 270 days.