Law and Society Students Argue Fifth Amendment Issues in Moot Court Contest

Four Philadelphia University students competed for the Law and Society Program’s moot court competition championship on May 3 in front of the Honorable Judith Wizmur, United States Bankruptcy Judge for the District of New Jersey.

The students, Victoria Thorsen and William Jackson on the side of the defense and Heather Morris and Danny Arroyo arguing for the state, debated a fictitious U.S. Court of Appeals case prepared by Evan Laine, Esq., program director of law and society.

Each student in the Law and Legal Writing class participated in the tournament-style competition during the semester, drafting a legal brief on the case and preparing oral arguments for each round that he/she advanced to. Thorsen and Jackson garnered the most points throughout the competition to win first place.

The case focused on the conflict between civil liberties and national defense in the face of terrorism. In the scenario developed by Laine, a teenage person is accused of bombing a theater, killing 15 people. Following the incident, police officers obtained two alleged confessions from the suspect, the first in a police vehicle before the suspect’s Miranda rights had been read, and the second in a police station, potentially using illegal interrogation methods.

The students argued over whether the confessions were obtained legally, and therefore should be counted as admissible evidence in court. The Fifth Amendment protects suspects from being forced to incriminate themselves, but the details of the case allowed for room to debate.

“This contest is a perfect example of Philadelphia’s signature teaching and learning,” Laine said. “Students are taught the theory of the law and then given the opportunity to put it into practice.” Students also received feedback from several legal experts serving as volunteer judges in the rounds leading up to the championship.

Laine said the students conducted detailed research to prepare their legal briefs and oral arguments. The contest requires students to have an extensive knowledge of case law relating to the Fifth Amendment issues present in the case.

Both finalist teams argued convincingly in the final round — the final point total separated the two finalists by the thinnest of margins. Morris and Arroyo won the semester-long competition for best legal writing, and Thorsen and Jackson won for best oral arguments as well as the overall first-place trophy.

“Each of the students was outstanding,” Wizmur said. “I have a lot of experience judging moot court contests in New York and New Jersey, and they did exceptionally well. They compared favorably with those who I have seen before, and most of those are second and third year law students.”

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