Notre Dame Law School to Host U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

Notre Dame Law School will host the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces on April 4, with three law students participating on the briefs and two participating in the oral argument.

The court – which exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the armed forces on active duty and other people who are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice – will hear arguments in United States v. Edward Mitchell. The case considers issues of self-incrimination and the use of information on a smartphone during a criminal investigation.

Sean Flynn, 2L, and Alyssa Hughes, 3L, have submitted an amicus brief for the United States, which is the appellant in the case. Flynn will present an oral argument, as well. Professors Jimmy Gurulé and Marah McLeod are serving as their supervising attorneys.

Dominic Barceleau, 2L, has submitted an amicus brief and will present an oral argument for Mitchell, the appellee. Professor Stephen Smith is serving as his supervising attorney.

Notre Dame Law School has some alumni connections with the court, too.

Margaret A. Ryan, ’95 J.D., is one of the court’s five judges. Steven Begakis, ’16 J.D., is a clerk for Judge Ryan. Sean Brady, 3L, is slated to serve as a clerk for her after graduation.

Robert L. Jones, clinical professor of law and associate dean for experiential programs, said this is a special opportunity for the Law School.

“It’s extremely valuable for our students to see courts in action – especially a court as prestigious as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces,” Jones said. “It’s a chance to see how judges think and how lawyers present arguments to a high-level court.”

It’s also an extraordinary opportunity for the law students participating in the case, Jones said. “The chance to argue at a court of this level in a real case is very unusual,” he said.

And it’s a particularly interesting case.

Mitchell, a U.S. Army sergeant, was charged before a general court-martial at Fort Hood, Texas, with numerous offenses involving the sexual assault and harassment of his ex-wife. Despite being ordered not to contact his ex-wife, Mitchell communicated with her through applications on his smartphone, and she contacted the police.

Upon being advised of his rights to silence and to an attorney, Mitchell invoked his right to counsel. Investigators again later contacted him to search his smartphone. At trial, the military judge granted the defense’s motion to suppress the contents of Mitchell’s phone, which he had unlocked and given to an investigator at his commander’s office.

United States v. Edward Mitchell includes issues concerning the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause and the Edwards Rule, which holds that police must stop interrogating a suspect after he or she invokes the Fifth Amendment right to counsel.

“It’s an issue not just for military courts but for every court in the country that is dealing with criminal matters,” Jones said. “The issue is whether there are Fifth Amendment constraints on law enforcement asking or requiring a suspect to unlock a smartphone.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the U.S. Air Force have filed amicus briefs in the case.

“For so many parties to file friend-of-the-court briefs indicates the importance of this case,” Jones said. “This is one of those recurring issues related to our modern digital technology that hasn’t been settled.”

The court proceeding is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. on April 4 in the Patrick F. McCartan Courtroom in the Eck Hall of Law. The public is welcome to attend.

Jones said he hopes to see Notre Dame’s members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the hearing. He also noted that the Law School always has several students interested in going into the Judge Advocate General’s Corps after graduating.

“We have a particularly strong relationship with the military here at Notre Dame, so it’s especially nice to have the highest military court in the country meeting here,” Jones said.