Appellate Practice Clinic Secures Another Win with the Sixth Circuit; Extends Winning Streak to Four

The Cleveland-Marshall Appellate Practice Clinic, directed by Professor Doron Kalir, has secured a fourth straight victory in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Clinic was appointed to represent Liston Watson on appeal.

In the district court, Mr. Watson entered into a plea agreement providing for a maximum 30-year sentence. At the sentencing hearing, however, the district court imposed a sentence of 30 years and one day, based on the court’s belief that the additional day was legally required. 

On appeal, the Clinic argued that Mr. Watson’s plea agreement was breached and that his lawyer’s failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. To prevail, the Clinic had to show that (a) the plea agreement was breached; (b) that sentencing counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to the breach at the time it occurred; (c) that appellate counsel also provided ineffective assistance of counsel, by not raising the issue properly on direct appeal; and (d) that Watson could overcome the procedural default that prevented him from raising those issues below.

The Clinic submitted a comprehensive Opening Brief exploring each of these points. The government, in return, submitted a 40-page brief contesting each point separately. The Clinic then submitted a longer-than-usual Reply Brief, explaining why the government was wrong at every turn.

Clinic students Dominic Neville, Anthonia Ogbechie, Renee Pickel, and Bianca N. Smith assisted Professor Kalir in in researching and drafting of the Opening Brief. (The Reply Brief was submitted in July). 

Professor Kalir argued the case before the Sixth Circuit, and clinic students Katheryn Hach, Nicole Johnson, and Marty DiMichele provided crucial assistance in preparation for Oral Argument, and in reviewing and drafting of the later round of briefs. 

Following the Judges’ remarks on Oral Argument, the government conceded the error, acknowledging that the sentence of 30 years plus one day violated the terms of Mr. Watson’s plea agreement. It then filed a motion asking the Appellate Court to vacate the decision below. Following another round of shorter briefs, the Court issued its opinion, granting Watson’s Motion to Vacate his sentence, and remanding the case to the district court to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea. 

Professor Matthew Green, former Professor Joseph Mead, and Associate Dean Jonathan Witmer-Rich assisted by conducting practice oral arguments with Professor Kalir and the Clinic students. 

Professor Kalir served as Counsel of Record.  

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