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Criminal Law Clinics Close out Academic Year in Front of the Wyoming Supreme Court

June 30, 2020
Christian Ryan and Emily Williams
Christian Ryan (J.D. '20); Emily Williams (J.D. '20)

Students in the Prosecution Assistance Program and the Defender Aid Clinic appeared remotely before the Wyoming Supreme Court during the June session of oral arguments. Both clinics were represented on separate cases in their respective clinics.

Recent graduates Emily Williams of Laramie, Wyo., and Christian Ryan of Deerfield, Ill., followed through on cases that had been active during the semester and argued before the Wyoming Supreme Court to finish their commitments to the clinics.

While there are ongoing cases in the clinical programs year round, it is always a thrill to see students who have dedicated so much of their time and effort on case guide it through its’ final appeal. This is especially true in the case presented by Emily Williams in the Defender Aid Clinic.

Williams made an argument on the case Davis v. State of Wyoming, which is a major juvenile re-sentencing case that the clinic has been pursing for over five years. After winning a landmark decision in the Wyoming Supreme Court in 2018 (read about that argument here), the case was remanded to the Wyoming District Court of the Fourth Judicial District for re-sentencing in 2019 (more about that here). At that point in time, Williams appeared for a full evidentiary hearing for re-sentencing and argued to drop the remaining sentence. The outcome of that hearing was less than favorable for their client, so the clinic appealed once more to the Wyoming Supreme Court with Williams at the helm. It is the hope that a final decision will be made on the case when opinions are released.

Faculty Director of the Defender Aid Clinic, Lauren McLane, weighs in on the argument.

“The Donald Davis case, in many respects, has been the heart and soul of this clinic since I arrived in July 2018,” she says. “While there are many issues the clinic has been working on in this case, it has really been the relationship that the students and I have developed with Donald that will outlast any principle of law that is either clarified or created by our courts.”

For Williams, it was a fitting way to end her time in the clinic, leaving a lasting impact.

“Mr. Donald Davis’ case was my first full case coming into the Defender Aid Clinic,” she says. “It was only fitting that his was the case to close out my time as a student. It has been a long road for Mr. Davis, as the juvenile sentencing area of the law has been changing and is not yet fully developed. Though I have enjoyed the unique issues presented, what I value most was getting to know Donald and becoming his advocate. His case, in particular, has changed the way that I view my role as a criminal defense attorney.”

Williams leaves her post as the Student Clinic Director a veteran in the courtroom. In her position, she appeared for hearings and arguments on several occasions, including two appearances before the Wyoming Supreme Court. Her spirit and perseverance in the arena led her to be voted by her peers as the Outstanding Graduate in her law class. She will now be starting her legal career as a Wyoming Public Defender.

Meanwhile, the Prosecution Assistance Clinic saw Ryan make his first appearance before the Wyoming Supreme Court. Though it was his first oral argument, Ryan is no stranger to the courtroom. Ryan spent a summer as a legal intern with the Colorado District Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial District where among his experience he tried misdemeanor jury trials. Additionally, he gained valuable experience in the Cheyenne City Attorney’s Office as a legal extern.

A transplant to Wyoming, Ryan earned his Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Wyoming in 2017. While in law school, he served as the President of the Federalist Society, Vice President of the Board of Advocates, and was a top student in the Summer Trial Institute.

After a semester in the Prosecution Assistance Program, Ryan appeared before the Wyoming Supreme Court under the supervision of the Attorney General’s Office. He argued against an ineffective assistance of counsel case on behalf of the State of Wyoming.

In the current state of affairs, the most challenging hurdle to over come in legal advocacy has been the drastic shift to online court proceedings and managing a caseload virtually. Ryan found the unexpected change in circumstances to be one of the strangest parts of his experience, having prepared for one scenario and ending up with something entirely different.

“The weirdest thing about this whole experience was writing the brief at the beginning of the total shut down, and not knowing when or if I’d ever get to do an argument for it,” he explains. “When we submitted the brief, the Court was still closed. We did moots over video conference, and the argument was via video conference so the whole experience felt very sterile compared to walking into the much anticipated Supreme Court chamber.”

Still, standing before the Wyoming Supreme Court Justices, even through a computer screen, proved to be humbling and inspiring for him. 

“It ended up not being too different from a regular argument,” he says. “At first it was strange to see the Justices so close on the webcam, but they were all very professional and courteous which made it easy to focus on the job at hand. I am very grateful that I was able to stand before them in any capacity and make a case for the state.”

Professor Darrell Jackson, Faculty Director of the Prosecution Assistance Program was very complimentary of Ryan.

“Chris really impressed me,” he praises. “I am used to seeing students prepare for their first appeal and need help to finesse their argument. From the very first moot, Chris was 90% already there. Not only did he write the brief and know the facts, I was really impressed with how quickly he grasped the law, and how eloquently he had crafted his technique and style. He is very natural in the courtroom and a confident advocate on his feet.”

On the best of days, a courtroom appearance is intimidating. Williams and Ryan have continued to demonstrate the resiliency of student attorneys and showcase the adaptability that is vital to legal profession. The College of Law is proud that they rose to the challenge in an unprecedented new situation to provide the best representation possible for their clients.

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