Thursday, October 22, 2009

Moot Court

There are times in which I realize that when you're in law school, you're learning a new language, and so when I describe something that I'm doing, people who are not crazy, sleep-deprived, stressed, addicted to sugar, caffeine, etc. might not know what I'm talking about.

Moot Court is basically appellate oral argument before a panel of judges. Last year all of the first years had to argue before the "California Court of Appeals" on a trade secret issue. That was for a grade, and also to qualify for the Moot Court Honors Program. I was one of the 40 that qualified, and now I am getting ready for the preliminary rounds.

This time I'm arguing before the US "Supreme Court", which in the preliminary round is 3 practicing attorneys (for the final round the school usually recruits 3 Federal court of appeals judges). There are two issues and two students on each side. I am arguing about the 4th and 5th Amendment of the Constitution. I get 15 minutes to speak, during which the judges frequently interrupt me with questions that I have to answer. You have to be knowledgeable, charming, and able to think on your feet. I'd like to say that I'm good at all three, but generally I get dinged on the "knowledgeable" part - especially this year.

The issue is interesting, but the answer is far from easy. The essence of it is: you can be stopped by a police officer and asked questions without being unlawfully "seized" - a Fourth Amendment violation. But, you can't be interrogated while under arrest without receiving your Miranda warning (you have the right to be silent, anything you say can and will be used in a court of have a right to an attorney...etc.etc.). So the question is, can you be detained by an officer to the point at which it isn't an unlawful seizure but you should have received your Miranda warning? I spent most of my time this semester arguing for my paper that you don't have to be given the warning (that was my assignment, not my choice), BUT -- you have to argue both sides. On Tuesday I argued for the government, and tonight I'm arguing for the defendant. There is a ton of case law on this issue, but no clear answers, especially from the Supreme Court, which is why the issue was chosen.

The real rounds start in about a week, but this week we had practice rounds and it's been pretty difficult, especially to argue the side that I actually wrote about. We'll see how tonight goes when I do my off-brief. After the preliminary rounds, 16 students are chosen to compete next semester, and a winner is chosen in March. Perhaps if I get to the next round I'll be arguing the other issue: is a prohibition of sex toys a violation of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause right to privacy? But for now, I'm focusing on the rights of a criminal defendant and trying to make sure I'm able to articulate a decent argument.

Unrelated note: this weekend I am up north for Homecoming! Hopefully I will remember my camera this time and will put some pictures up on the blog when I'm back.

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