You could have heard a pin drop inside FIU Law’s large courtroom as appellate attorneys, dressed in full military regalia, were preparing to argue the case of United States v. Jones before the five federal appellate judges that make up the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
There was one person in the courtroom who wasn’t dressed like the others.
He was Rey Martinez – a third-year FIU Law evening student – who was playing the part of amicus curiae (or friend of the court). As amicus, Martinez is not a party to the case but offers information that may assist the court in its final decision.
“This was one of the best experiences of my life. I was humbled and honored to be able to represent FIU Law in front of a federal court of appeals,” Martinez shared. “I felt like all of my hard work and time had paid off – and for those very brief 10 minutes, I was an attorney.”
FIU Law Professor Eric Carpenter, who teaches Evidence and Military Justice, is a former judge advocate and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. With his ties to the military, Carpenter helped bring the hearing to FIU Law, which included an invitation for one student to serve as amicus. Martinez was inspired to take on the challenge while taking Carpenter’s Military Justice course.
The opportunity to use a law school student in a real-life hearing is part of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces’ Project Outreach program. The program allows law schools, military bases and other public facilities to be used as the courtroom for these hearings.
Unlike cases in traditional law school moot court competitions where the case in question is fictional, this case was real. Jones was accused of robbery in Iraq. After the alleged robbery, a fourth soldier questioned Jones without reading him certain rights. The issue was whether this fourth soldier wasrequired to read Jones the rights. If he was, the confession should have been suppressed and the defendant could be entitled to a new trial.
“[It’s] a real life federal bench, where someone’s life is at stake, someone who is facing real consequences. This case has the potential to rewrite military law,” said Martinez.
Under the supervision of Carpenter, Martinez wrote and submitted a 15-page brief. Although Martinez is not yet a licensed attorney, he argued confidently during his 10-minute presentation in court. He was interrupted often by the judges, who fired questions at him.
“You could not tell that Mr. Martinez was a student rather than an experienced appellate litigator,” said Carpenter. “He is an example of the great students that we have at FIU Law, and his performance should make us all proud.”
“I spent hours reading any case the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces had written on the matter and studied the opinions. I had so much help from Professor Carpenter, my classmates, as well as other professors, namely, Professors Klion, Walter, Wasserman and Rickard, in mooting me and preparing me to appear before the five judges. The professors asked the tough questions, and I felt confident standing in front of the court that I was prepared.”
The judges will issue an opinion within the next few months.
Judge Scott W. Stucky, who has served on the court since 2006, believes that moving from their home courthouse in Washington, D.C., to other locales and allowing law students to participate in the hearing is unique.
“I don’t know another court that does this,” said Stucky.
For Martinez, appearing in front of a federal court won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – he hopes to one day achieve his dream of becoming a JAG officer.
“After the conclusion of the hearing, I was honored to receive a military challenge coin from the court as well as to receive kind words from the judges and many high ranking military personnel from both the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.”