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Defender Aid Clinic Earns Giant Victory in the Wyoming Supreme Court

April 24, 2018
alyssa-clegg

The Defender Aid Program at the College of Law recently received notice of a huge victory in one of their cases that has spanned over the course of a few years. On April 13, 2018, the Wyoming Supreme Court issued an opinion reversing the District Court of Johnson County’s refusal to modify their client’s original sentence of life imprisonment with a consecutive twenty-to-fifty-year sentence.

In recent years, students in the Defender Aid Program began representing a series of cases seeking resentencing for juvenile clients through the application of the 2012 United States Supreme Court Decision on Miller v. Alabama. Many of those cases represented by the Defender Aid Clinic made their way before the Wyoming Supreme Court. (Read more here.)

The recent victory stems from one of those cases.

Alyssa (Clegg) Conway (J.D. ’17) of Saratoga, Wyo. was the main student that worked on this particular case. In 2016, Conway, with the help of fellow student Hannah Toland (J.D. ’17), appeared in the Johnson County District Court in Buffalo, Wyo. for a full-day hearing pursuant to a motion to correct an illegal sentence for the client. Unsuccessful at the district court level, Conway drafted the initial appeal of the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court. She appeared before the Court, making her argument a few short weeks after graduating from the College of Law.

Following oral arguments, the Wyoming Supreme Court requested additional information. Catherine Young, the current Student Director of the Defender Aid Program was tasked with providing the supplemental brief to the Court in collaboration with attorney Julianne Gern (J.D. ’14) who had previously served as the Faculty Supervisor for the Clinic, and attorney Tom Fleener, the current Faculty Supervisor for the Clinic. Their collaborative efforts culminated with the ultimate win for the client.

“I am immensely proud of the work done by the students in the Defender Aid Clinic,” says Gern. “Alyssa drafted an outstanding brief for the Wyoming Supreme Court and her oral argument was better than many practicing attorneys. Catherine stepped up and learned a complex area of law in a short period of time. Her outstanding written advocacy skills contributed tremendously to our success in this case.”

The successful outcome was very much a team effort. One of the strengths about the clinical programs is that the cases remain housed within the Clinic rather than with one particular student or faculty supervisor. The Clinic provides continuity of representation for the client from start to finish. The client received a level of dedication from the faculty and students since the case’s initial acceptance into the Clinic under the direction of the late Professor Diane Courselle.

“Without the Clinic, Mr. Davis likely would not have had the opportunity to argue his case—which would mean that he would still be serving an illegal sentence, and the state and country would be without the important ruling made in this case,” adds Gern.

In addition to the win for the client, the four-to-one decision established several procedures Wyoming district courts must use when determining whether a juvenile offender is one of the rare, irredeemable children who deserves to serve a life sentence, or its functional equivalent. As an evolving area of law, the ruling in this case will help defense attorneys and juvenile defendants nationwide.

“This case and its history will set the legal standard for all juvenile offenders in Wyoming,” says Fleener. “I’m very proud of all of the work that was put in by each of the students and the impact they are making in the state.”

The College of Law is exceptionally proud of the hard work and dedication put into this case by all parties involved. Special congratulations to the students, the faculty supervisors, and especially to the client.

def-aid-win
Julianne Gern (J.D. ’14), Tom Fleener, 3L Catherine Young, Hannah Toland (J.D. ’17)
About the Case
In 1982, when Mr. Davis was seventeen years old, he and a friend picked up a hitchhiker, robbed, and then murdered him. In 1983, he was sentenced to life plus an additional twenty-to-fifty years, to be served consecutively, meaning one after the other. However, following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, that life without parole is an excessive sentence for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, in 2015 Mr. Davis was granted parole from his life sentence and began serving his consecutive twenty-to-fifty-year sentence. Mr. Davis had served almost thirty-four years on his life sentence when he began serving the twenty-to-fifty-year sentence.
Represented by the University of Wyoming College of Law Defender Aid Program, Mr. Davis first filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that this new aggregate sentence remains a de facto life sentence with no meaningful chance of release during his lifetime. The decision by the Wyoming Supreme Court reversed the district court and remanded for resentencing.


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