Appellate Clinic Wins Fourth Circuit Appeal

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled in favor of an Appellate Advocacy Clinic client, in the case of Bostick v. Stevenson, in a unanimous published opinion decided Dec.17.

Bostick had been convicted of murder in a South Carolina state trial court.  In a pro se petition for habeas corpus to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Bostick contended that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to consult with him regarding an appeal.  Because no appeal was filed, Bostick lost the right to appeal to the South Carolina Court of Appeals.  The District Court ruled that Bostick’s claim was procedurally barred under South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) and did not reach the merits of his claim.  Bostick appealed, and the Fourth Circuit appointed Professor John Korzen and the Appellate Advocacy Clinic to handle his appeal.

After briefs drafted by two members of the Class of 2009, and an oral argument on Oct. 30 by third-year law student Daniel Vandergriff, the Fourth Circuit reversed.  The Court agreed with the Appellate Advocacy Clinic’s contentions on both the Rule 59(e) issue and the Sixth Amendment ineffective assistance of counsel issue.  The Court first held that Bostick’s claim was not procedurally barred because South Carolina state courts had inconsistently applied Rule 59(e).  The Court then held that Bostick’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated.  The Court remanded with instructions that Bostick be released from prison unless the state grants him a direct appeal within a reasonable time.

“This victory was a team effort involving five students,” said Professor Korzen.  Former clinic students Brian Conley and Matt Monteith, who graduated in 2009, drafted the Brief of Appellant and Reply Brief of Appellant last spring. Vandergriff praised their work on the briefs.  “It made my job at oral argument really easy,” he said.

Current clinic students Megan Bode and Ellie Trefzger helped Daniel prepare for the oral argument.

Daniel concluded, “It was a thrill to argue before a panel of the Fourth Circuit. Mr. Bostick had a constitutional right to decide whether or not to appeal. He was denied that right, so I was honored to stand up and help him finally get the chance to have a South Carolina appellate court hear his claims.”

The Appellate Advocacy Clinic is a two-semester course open to third-year law students.  Contact Professor Korzen for more information about the Clinic.