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George Mason Supreme Court Clinic Helps Obtain Victory for the State of Louisiana in the U.S. Supreme Court

On April 29, 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed as improvidently granted Boyer v. Louisiana, No. 11-9953, leaving in place the petitioner’s murder conviction and life sentence. The Court’s dismissal of the case represents a significant victory for the State of Louisiana and for the Supreme Court Clinic at George Mason University School of Law, which acted as co-counsel for the State (in conjunction with the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office). Led by Wiley Rein LLP attorneys Thomas R. McCarthy ('01) and William S. Consovoy ('01), the Clinic joined the representation of the State after the Court granted certiorari in the case and played a central role in assisting the State in formulating and implementing its merits-stage strategy. Wiley Rein associate Bryan Weir ('11) helped lead a team of three of Mason's Clinic students—Lauren Hahn, Mark Quist, and David McCarthy—who likewise contributed greatly to this successful effort. All three students will graduate from the law school in May 2013.

The Court had granted certiorari in Boyer to decide “[w]hether a state’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant for five years, particularly where failure was the direct result of the prosecution’s choice to seek the death penalty, should be weighed against the state for speedy trial purposes.” After reviewing the parties’ merits briefs and holding oral argument, however, the Court decided that it had mistakenly granted review and dismissed the petition. Justice Alito, in a concurrence joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, explained that although the “premise” of the question presented was “that a breakdown in Louisiana’s system for paying the attorneys representing petitioner, an indigent defendant who was charged with a capital offense, caused most of the lengthy delay between his arrest and trial,” that premise was incorrect. Because the record instead showed “that the single largest share of the delay in this case was the direct result of defense requests for continuances, that other defense motions caused substantial additional delay, and that much of the rest of the delay was caused by events beyond anyone’s control,” the Court had “taken up this case on the basis of a mistaken factual premise.” Four Justices, in an opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, dissented from the Court’s decision to dismiss the case and would have resolved the matter in Boyer’s favor. The dissent faulted Justice Alito for “largely adopt[ing] Louisiana’s arguments.” 

Calcasieu Parish Assistant District Attorney Carla S. Sigler, who argued the case on behalf of the State, praised the work of the Clinic in helping to convince the Court that it had mistakenly taken this case, explaining that the “George Mason University School of Law Supreme Court Clinic … thoroughly researched the issues involved, prepared and filed a comprehensive and exemplary brief, and helped prepare the State’s prosecutor for the daunting challenge of oral argument.” Ms. Sigler added that, “without [the Clinic’s] assistance, the State would not have been able to prevail in this difficult case.” 

The Court’s per curiam order dismissing the case, along with the concurring and dissenting opinions, can be found here (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-9953_4h25.pdf).  A copy of Louisiana’s merits brief can be found here (http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/supreme_court_preview/briefs-v2/11-9953_resp.authcheckdam.pdf).

For more information about the case or Mason Law's Supreme Court Clinic, please contact Thomas R. McCarthy at 202.719.7476 or tmccarthy@wileyrein.com and William S. Consovoy at 202.719.7434 or wconsovoy@wileyrein.com.