Supreme Court Clinic: Criminal Justice
The Supreme Court Clinic has been at the forefront of cutting-edge criminal litigation, ranging from the new field of crimmigration (the overlap of criminal and immigration law) to the government’s ability to search cellphones.
The Clinic’s first case was a blockbuster: Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) held, 7-2, that defense lawyers must warn noncitizen defendants that they will or may be deported before they plead guilty. The Clinic team persuaded the Court that deportation has become so automatic and draconian a penalty for even minor criminal convictions that advising clients about it is part of defense lawyers’ job. For their work on that case, the Padilla team won the 2011 Jack Wasserman Memorial Award from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
In Ohio v. Smith (2010), police officers arrested Mr. Smith and, as part of the arrest, searched his cellphone. The Clinic successfully opposed Ohio’s certiorari petition by distinguishing cell phones from other containers that police may open as part of an arrest, stressing how quickly the technology is changing, and dismantling the alleged disagreement among various courts on the issue. The Clinic's success allowed the issue to develop for several more years and gave time for other pro-privacy precedents to develop, paving the way for the Supreme Court's eventual unanimous ruling that officers may not search an arrestee's cellphone without a warrrant.
In Tapia v. United States (2011), the Supreme Court needed a sentencing expert to explain why judges could adjust sentences to get inmates into drug treatment, so it appointed Professor Bibas to brief and argue the case as amicus curiae, a “great honor.” Professor Bibas and the Clinic offered a fresh account of the Sentencing Reform Act’s history and policy, one no other lawyers had seen. At oral argument, one observer noted, “Bibas [was] exceptionally well prepared. He knew what he was going to get asked and had his answers direct, succinct and well organized. He had great presence of mind, something it’s easy to lose in the pressure of a SCOTUS argument.” In announcing the Court’s opinion, Justice Kagan went out of her way to compliment the “exceptionally good job” they had done with a difficult case.