Federal Criminal Justice Clinic -- Significant Accomplishments

Students in the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic had the unique opportunity to appear in federal court during a two-day suppression hearing in United States v. Abdulilah Al Mujahid, a gun possession case. The FCJC moved to suppress evidence and statements on the grounds that the Chicago Police Department violated Mr. Al Mujahid’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when they searched two residences without a warrant and interrogated him without reading him Miranda rights. At the hearing, students cross-examined government witnesses, conducted direct examinations of defense witnesses, and presented oral argument. Prior to the hearing, students spent hundreds of hours writing motions, reviewing government discovery, investigating the case, and preparing to examine government and defense witnesses. The district court judge will issue a decision in the near future.

The FCJC had several remarkable sentencing victories this year. In United States v. Brian Wade, a complex federal mortgage fraud case, FCJC students convinced the district court judge to reject the prosecutor’s request that Mr. Wade go to prison for 37–46 months, and instead secured a sentence of zero prison time and a year of home confinement. This was a truly extraordinary result, especially considering that one of the codefendants received 5 years in prison. FCJC students wrote nearly 50 pages of motions and presented an impassioned, legally-grounded sentencing argument that enabled Mr. Wade to maintain his job, to continue supporting his family, and to continue mentoring at-risk children in Englewood.

In United States v. Bernard Monrial, a serious federal gun possession case, FCJC students persuaded the district court judge to impose a sentence of probation instead of 24–36 months in prison, as the prosecutor had requested. Students laid the groundwork for this incredible sentence when they successfully argued to the magistrate judge in October 2012 for Mr. Monrial to be released on bond and participate in a drug treatment program. FCJC students wrote a 22-page sentencing motion to the district court, accompanied by 55 pages of exhibits, which skillfully highlighted Mr. Monrial’s extraordinary post-offense rehabilitation and family responsibilities and demonstrated that sending Mr. Monrial to jail would jeopardize his tremendous progress.

Finally, in United States v. Sami Hassoun, a widely-publicized federal terrorism case, FCJC students filed hundreds of pages of sentencing motions and exhibits that convinced the district court judge to sentence their client deeply below the original Guidelines range of life imprisonment and the government’s requested sentence of 30 years. The ultimate sentence—23 years—was the lowest sentence in the country for this type of offense. The students conveyed Mr. Hassoun’s humanity by showing how the trauma he had experienced in several war zones as a child had influenced his actions. At the end of the hearing, the judge stated that it was the best sentencing presentation he had seen in his 19 years on the bench, a credit to the students’ tremendous work.

In addition to these district court successes, the FCJC wrote amicus briefs in two United States Supreme Court cases. In Alleyne v. United States, No. 11-9335, the clinic wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU and The Sentencing Project in collaboration with two alums at Mayer Brown. In a 5-4 decision, the Alleyne Court overruled prior precedent to hold that the Sixth Amendment requires the facts that set mandatory minimum penalties to be charged in an indictment and proved beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Alleyne’s holding is a major victory for criminal defendants, as it significantly raises the bar for the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences. The FCJC’s amicus brief, which was discussed by the justices during oral argument, focused on mandatory minimum sentences in the context of federal drug cases. The FCJC also co-authored a Professors’ Brief in United States v. Davila, No. 12-167, on behalf of 57 criminal law and procedure professors from around the country. The question in Davila involved the proper remedy when a judge, in violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1), participates in plea discussions by urging a criminal defendant to plead guilty. The amicus brief focused on the realities of the guilty plea process, including the pressures the process places on the client, the imbalance of power, and the coercive effect judicial exhortation to plead guilty has on a client who is trying to decide whether to exercise his right to trial.