Welcome to CR-CL’s Ames Live Blog!
The Ames Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for appellate brief writing and advocacy in the country. The students participating in the Semi-Final Round started the competition in fall of this year, and rose to the final four spots through their strong research abilities and excellent written and oral advocacy.
Case Summary (from the Board of Student Advisors): The Ames State Police discovered the body of Victor Malone beneath the Botany Bay Bridge. After a quick investigation, the police concluded that Mr. Malone had died when he jumped off the bridge above, the victim of suicide. During their investigation, the police discovered leaflets at the top of the bridge that, much to their shock, actually encouraged people to commit suicide. These leaflets listed a telephone number belonging to the defendant, Patrick Finley.
When police contacted Mr. Finley, he readily admitted that he had spoken to Mr. Malone the night he jumped to his death. The investigation revealed that Mr. Malone called Mr. Finley that evening after seeing one of Mr. Finley’s flyers at the bridge. Mr. Malone explained that he was feeling depressed and suicidal. Mr. Finley explained his philosophical beliefs to Mr. Malone: that death was a path to enlightenment, that only through suicide could people end their mortal suffering and ascend to a higher plane of existence – to become “shining lights.” Mr. Finley recognized that his beliefs are highly controversial, inflammatory, and unpopular. Yet that evening, Mr. Finley repeatedly urged Mr. Malone to commit suicide. In addition to their telephone call, Mr. Finley even sent several text messages admonishing Mr. Malone to jump off the bridge.
Mr. Finley was ultimately charged with having violated a state criminal statute that outlawed encouraging another person to commit suicide, except in the case of a medical provider. Mr. Finley interposed a First Amendment defense to this prosecution, arguing that this statute either was an impermissible restriction on his free speech or the free exercise of his religion. The trial court denied these requests.
During trial, the prosecution used a peremptory strike to remove a Catholic nun from the jury pool. During juror voir dire, this potential juror expressed some reticence about serving on the jury due to her religious beliefs. She was concerned that her beliefs about suicide and her beliefs about worldly punishment may impact her views on the case. Nonetheless, the court rejected the Commonwealth’s attempt to strike the juror for cause. As a result, the prosecution used a peremptory strike to eliminate this juror from the venire.
The defendant raised a Batson objection to the use of this peremptory strike, alleging that the prosecution’s use of this peremptory on the basis of the juror’s religion violated the defendant’s fair trial rights. The Court overruled this Batson challenge, finding that Batson did not apply to situations where a juror was removed for her religious beliefs.
After trial, Mr. Finley was convicted of having violated the statute at issue, and he was sentenced to jail.
The questions presented by this appeal are:
- Whether the First Amendment protects Defendant’s actions that are the subject of the indictment, or whether the Commonwealth’s criminal statute, Ames Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 60, is unconstitutional?
- Whether the Commonwealth’s use of a peremptory challenge on Juror 1 during the second trial of this matter was a violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)?
The Honorable Richard Taranto of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
The Honorable Rachel Kovner of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
The Honorable Rowan Wilson of the New York Court of Appeals
The Justice Robert H. Jackson Memorial Team (Appellant)
The Soia Mentschikoff Memorial Team (Appellee)
Please tune in starting at 6:15 EST!