Students Go Head to Head in Moot Court Competition
March 17, 2013
By: Michal Brown
Staff Writer, Tampa Bay
A showdown took place in the appellate and trial court rooms as seven teams went against each other in the the Melissa Mitchell Moot Court competition. The competition, which was open to students taking criminal procedure, teaches students the skills needed to be a successful litigator. It allows students to spend time perfecting the legal, analytical, research, and writing skills that practicing attorneys must have. It also helps students form and communicate legal arguments.
During this year’s Michelle Mitchell Criminal Procedure Moot Court Competition the Justices focused on two issues: 1) whether or not the police violated the petitioner’s fourth amendment rights by tracking him through his cell phone’s GPS tracking system, and 2) whether or not the police exceeded the scope of their warrant to search petitioner’s cell phone text messages when they read an email which popped up during the text message search.
A total of seven teams competed in the preliminary rounds with four advanced to the quarter finals. The top five advocates after the preliminary round included: Christopher Pezzulo, Aaron Rothstein, Danica Malloy, Greg Wimsett and Shunta Tidwell.
The competitors that made up the four advancing teams were: Christopher Pezullo, Aaron Rothstein, Chris Perez and Haile Spratt for the petitioner and Ali Fallahmoghaddam, Shunta Tidwell, Christine Laney and Greg Wimsett for the respondent.
Petitioners argued that under Jones tracking suspects with a GPS is illegal and a violation of their fourth amendment rights without a proper warrant to do so. Had the police visually surveilled and tracked the petitioner there would have been no violation of his constitutional rights. Petitioners also contended that although the police had a proper warrant to search the petitioner’s cell phone for texts messages related to an anonymous tip regarding drug dealing, the police had no right to read an incoming email pop-up message.
United States v. Jones is a recent Supreme Court of the United States case regarding the government’s installation and prolonged use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device to an individual's vehicle. The Court was faced with deciding whether or not the attachment of a GPS tracking device to an individual’s vehicle, and subsequent use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements on public streets, constitutes a search or seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that "[t]he right ofthe people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." The Supreme Court unanimously held that "the Government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a ‘search’” under the Fourth Amendment.
Respondents argued against the decision in Jones asserting that cell phone location tracking was not the same as GPS tracking because the information available through the cell phone was already in the public domain. Faced with questions from the justices, respondents contended that the officer’s reading of the email pop-up message during the text message search did not exceed the scope of their warrant and relied on the plain view doctrine and exigent circumstances to support their positions.
As the scores came in, Chris Perez and Haile Spratt moved on to the semi finals against Christine Laney and Greg Wimsett. The petitioners reaffirmed their arguments during semi-finals and the justices ruled in their favor. Chris Perez and Haile Spratt walked away the final winners.
The competition demanded great of use legal skills and great partner work. Chris Perez states, “Haile and I worked well together. It took more time to prepare than I thought it would, but being able to stand in front of the panel and defend my position with facts and cases is exhilarating. [T]he guest volunteers on the panel gave me great advice and insight that I'll be able to take with me into practice.”
Shunta Tidwell, who was named a school wide top ten advocate, said the competition reaffirmed her career choice, “Being apart of the Melissa Mitchell Moot Court Competition was a privilege and an opportunity to see this career of choice is right where I belong.”
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s team did not advance to the finals. Auburn Hills and Lansing went head-to-head in the finals with Geoffrey Patrishkoff and Francisco Lozano, from Auburn Hills, winning the 2013 Melissa Mitchell Criminal Procedure Moot Court Competition.
Congratulations to all the participants for a job well done.