On Monday, the Supreme Court released its 6-3 decision in Skinner v. Switzer. Skinner was convicted of capital murder in Texas, and sought to compel DNA testing to prove his innocence. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 64 bars defendants who did not request testing at trial from doing so post-conviction. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the defendant may seek access to the testing in federal court under 42 USC 1983, or whether that remedy was only available through a writ of habeas corpus under 28 USC 2254.
The Court held that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear the defendant’s complaint in a Section 1983 civil rights action. Defendant neither was seeking “speedier” release from custody in the action, nor was he challenging a Texas court’s ruling on merits. He was only challenging their interpretation of the law. This ruling allows the federal court subject matter jurisdiction over the defendants’ claim–it does not reach the merits. Defense attorneys are pleased with this ruling because it “slays the procedural dragons” that inhibit petitioners’ efforts toward exoneration in federal court.
Students participate in mock trial and moot court competitions all over the country. From high school to law school, the pressure and nerves ramp up as teams prepare witnesses, finalize arguments, polish their briefs, and seek to advance from local to national level competitions. This also means that lawyers will have plenty of opportunities right around the corner to donate their time.
The various advocacy competitions going on in our neighborhoods are not only great learning opportunities for all students alike, but also an option for fellow lawyers to give back to their communities and to help shape the lawyers of tomorrow. Recently, I participated in two very different advocacy competitions: I scored the Barristers 2011 Mock Trial Competition and volunteered as a presiding judge for the regional ABA NAAC Moot Court Competition here in San Francisco.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but there’s still time to get terrific gifts for lawyers and clients. Here are some of our favs:
The Apple iPad — It’s sleek, small, and über cool. It holds nifty free legal apps like Fastcase to find state and federal statutes and cases and Oyez’s PocketJustice that let’s lawyers listen to Supreme Court oral arguments. When your attorney friend is done raging at opposing counsel’s latest outrageous offer to their client, the attorney can vent his or her anger by playing Angry Birds or Star Wars Falcon Gunner. Plus, it makes them (and everyone they meet) think that they’re a swell lawyer, right?
Adopt a Volume of the Federal Reporter — No, we’re not crazy (at least not all the time)! For $1,200, you can actually make a tax-deductible donation to Public.Resource.Org to support scanning a volume or two of the first series of the Federal Reporter of the United States in the name of your favorite lawyer or law firm. The donation is to help them “adopt” a volume of federal case law from 1880 – 1924 that is now in the public domain.
OK, I know I totally missed the boat on this post–National Pro Bono Week was two weeks ago. I was too distracted by Halloween to notice, but I have been thinking about writing this post for awhile. Better late than never, so here we go!
Doing pro bono work is good for the community and your bottom line. Law school taught us that we have a professional responsibility to give back and to promote professional goodwill toward lawyers. But, this post is not about the warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping people. Instead, I want to explain how volunteering can help your practice in substantial ways.