Appellate Clinic Argues Case in Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals

On March 30, 2016, William & Mary Law School's Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic argued the case of Henry v. City of Mt. Dora in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The case involves the arrest of a thirteen-year-old girl in Florida that occurred on Halloween of 2009. Police were responding to a call regarding a group of African-American males throwing rocks at a building when they encountered a group of young African-American females walking down the street. An officer began to question one of the girls (who, for the protection of her identity, was referred to as M.E. in the case) regarding the rock-throwing incident, asking for her identity and address. The officer questioning M.E. about the incident had received information from another officer that this was not the group of individuals involved in the rock-throwing incident, but when M.E. refused to provide her name and address to the officer, he took her to the ground, handcuffed her, and took her to jail. She remained in jail for several hours. M.E.'s mother only found out that her daughter was in jail when she called 911 looking for her daughter.

The primary legal issue in the case was whether the officers were liable for their actions, despite the fact that a juvenile court had penalized M.E. for obstructing an officer in a "withheld adjudication" under Florida's juvenile justice guidelines. Under Florida law, juvenile adjudications are not criminal convictions even when they are not "withheld." However, the district court ruled that the Supreme Court case of Heck v. Humphrey barred the action because the Florida juvenile court purportedly had already found the officer's actions reasonable. Thus, the primary question in this case is whether M.E.'s withheld adjudication, though not technically a "conviction" under Florida law, and a situation in which the federal writ of habeas corpus is not available, is subject to the Heck bar. In Heck, the Supreme Court relied on the fact that the civil rights plaintiff in that case faced a criminal conviction, and had already had the opportunity to assert his federal constitutional rights by pursuing a writ of habeas corpus.

Jacob Derr, a third-year law student at William & Mary, argued the case with the support of Candace Wherry, also a third-year law student. Derr and Elizabeth Rademacher, a third-year law student, were primarily responsible for the briefing. Students in the clinic practice under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Tillman J. Breckenridge, a partner at Bailey & Glasser LLP and director of the Law School's Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic.

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