Crim Clinic Students Prevail in Fight for Client’s Property

Posted Tue, 03/13/2018 - 09:31

USF’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic won an important victory while representing a military veteran whose prescription medication was unlawfully seized by the San Francisco Police Department. 

“This case may seem small but the implications are profound,” said the clinic’s director, Associate Professor Lara Bazelon. “In a country that prides itself on protecting a person's right to his or her property, what happened to Mr. Smith violated the law. Students from both semesters worked extremely hard on this case, and the clinic is seeing that justice is done.  Unfortunately, Mr. Smith is not the only person this has happened to, and this USF clinic will be litigating more of these cases in the future.”

J.C. Smith, who served the U.S. Navy for five years before he was honorably discharged, was charged with drug possession in 2016. After successfully completing the rigorous requirements for San Francisco’s Veteran’s Justice Court, he graduated from the program last summer and the charges were dismissed. The San Francisco Police Department insisted that Smith’s medication, which was seized when he was arrested, was “contraband” and that the police should be allowed to destroy it, even though the medication was legally prescribed by a physician. 

A team of seven dedicated USF clinic students litigated a motion for return of Smith’s medication over the course of two semesters, including preparing and arguing the motion and writing the extensive reply brief. In January 2018, they prevailed on behalf of their client. In a written decision, the trial judge ordered the police department to return the medication to Smith, finding that the police had presented no evidence supporting their position.

Simone Christen 2L argued the motion, effectively countering opposing counsel’s arguments. Robyn Hall 3L prepared the cross examination of the police officer involved in arresting Smith, which included writing and practicing with the team, in case the judge allowed the officer to take the stand. In the end, the judge ruled that there was no need for the officer to testify. She said joining the clinic was an easy decision after spending the summer working at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

“It was so much fun preparing and practicing my cross,” she said. “This case is just a small piece of the beginning of my career in public work, and I like the idea of working for public defenders as a way to keep the state in check for how its citizens are treated. I am excited to continue working to fix this broken justice system.”