Ames Semi-Final Round
The Ames Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for appellate brief writing and advocacy in the country. The students participating in the Semi-Final Round started the competition in fall of this year, and rose to the final four spots through their strong research abilities and excellent written and oral advocacy.
Semi-Final Round oral arguments will be held in the Ames Courtroom in Austin Hall at 6:15pm on March 11th and 12th. Teams competing in the Semi-Final Round are below, as well as the case record and the briefs submitted for the Semi-Final Round.
Commonwealth v. Scanlon (March 11th, 6:15pm)
The state police of the Commonwealth of Ames launched an investigation after observing an uptick of gun sales to minors. Their investigation quickly led them to identify Scott Scanlon, who ran a lawful family gun shop along with his sister Susan, as a suspect.
As part of the investigation, the police obtained two digital audio recordings – made long before the police hypothesized that any illegal gun sales occurred – of conversations between Scott and Susan in which Scott makes statements about the difficulties facing the gun shop and the need for the business to branch out and make more money.
Although police ultimately concluded that Scott was the primary wrongdoer, they uncovered evidence that Susan participated in the scheme to sell guns illegally. For example, while executing a search warrant in Susan’s presence, the police discovered that metal gun shavings created when the guns were modified to remove their serial numbers to make them harder to track were found in a pair of Susan’s sneakers. However, a typographical error in the police report – undisclosed until trial – suggested that the metal shavings were found in men’s sneakers.
Ultimately, prosecutors indicted Scott and Susan for conspiring to sell guns to minors in violation of state law. Shortly after they were arraigned, however, Scott died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the charges against him were dismissed. Susan was left as the sole defendant in the case.
During trial, the Commonwealth introduced evidence tying Susan to the conspiracy. This included the audio recordings of Scott’s statements made before any illegal activities had occurred, which the court ruled was admissible under Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E), which makes statements of “coconspirators” admissible. The Commonwealth also introduced evidence concerning the metal gun shavings found in Susan’s sneakers. The Commonwealth also called the Scanlons’ accountant friend, someone that Susan knew to be involved with his own unsavory business affairs, to testify about Susan’s role in managing the money obtained from illegal gun sales, but the Commonwealth failed to disclose until after trial that this accountant was himself under investigation for securities fraud by another state agency.
After trial, Susan Scanlon was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to a term of incarceration. In post-trial motions, she challenged the Court’s decision to admit the audio recordings under the coconspirator exception to the hearsay rule. She also asserted that the prosecution violated is obligations under Brady v. Maryland by failing to disclose (1) the police officer’s typographical error in his report concerning her shoes and (2) the Commonwealth’s investigation of the accountant for securities fraud.
The questions presented by this appeal are:
- Whether the coconspirator exception to the hearsay rule, as set forth in Ames R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E), permits the admission of the two recorded statements of Scott Scanlon.
- Whether, to establish a violation of the prosecution’s obligations under Brady v. Maryland, a defendant must demonstrate that she did not know of (or could not in due diligence have known of) the suppressed evidence.
The Honorable Patty Shwartz of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
The Honorable Catherine Blake of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
The Honorable Amit Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
The Bhagat Singh Thind Memorial Team (Appellant)
Lolita De Palma
The Janet Wood Reno Memorial Team (Appellee)
Bond v. Anon, Inc. (March 12th, 6:15pm)
This case arises under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2333, which provides a civil remedy to the victims of international terrorism and their families. In 2015 plaintiff-appellant Margaret Bond’s husband was killed in the fictional country of Haprusa by a right-wing group called Haprusa First Forever (HFF). Bond’s complaint alleges that HFF used a social media site called Hardest Right, hosted by defendant-appellee Anon, Inc., a corporation in Ames, to pitch its agenda, recruit, raise funds, and communicate with its members. Anon makes money from Hardest Right through advertisements, sharing a portion of ad revenue with the hosts of pages on the site, including HFF. Bond alleges that Anon’s provision of social media services to HFF through Hardest Right, and its revenue sharing agreement, constitute material support to terrorism and thus render Anon liable for her injuries.
The district court dismissed Bond’s complaint on two grounds. First, the court held that the Anti-Terrorism Act requires a showing of proximate cause. Noting a circuit split over the standard, the court adopted the most stringent rule: that the plaintiff must show some direct relationship between the defendant’s conduct and her injuries. The court determined that under this standard, Bond’s complaint must fail.
Second, the court held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, shields Anon from liability. Section 230 has been interpreted to give the operators of Internet sites that host content—including Internet service providers, website operators, bloggers, and social media platforms—immunity from suits based on the content of materials posted on those sites by third parties. The court held that the gravamen of Bond’s claim is that Anon is liable because it hosted HFF’s content on Hardest Right, and so her claim is barred by Section 230.
Bond challenges both determinations on appeal to the Ames Circuit.
The Honorable Denise Casper of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts
The Honorable Wilhelmina Wright of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota
The Honorable Steven Ecker of the Connecticut Supreme Court
The Carrie Buck Memorial Team (Appellant)
The Patricia Roberts Harris Memorial Team (Appellee)
Alicia Alvero Koski
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