April 21, 2009 — For the fourth time in three years, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a case presented by the University of Virginia School of Law's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
Clinic instructor Mark Stancil will argue Bloate v. United States before the justices in November.
"The case involves the federal Speedy Trial Act, which sets a limit on the number of days that can elapse between the time the defendant is charged and the time he is brought to trial," Stancil said. "This is a case about whether a particular kind of time automatically counts against the clock."
Taylor James Bloate was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and with possessing cocaine base with intent to distribute. Bloate is arguing that the 28 days allotted for the preparation of his pretrial motions put the government over the 70-day speedy trial limit.
Federal courts of appeals have split on the question of whether such time counts against the clock. The Speedy Trial Act specifically addresses the exclusion of time relating to pretrial motions, and it declares that only the time between filing and disposition of the motion — and not its preparation — should be excluded from the speedy trial calculation.
"Congress clearly stated in the statute that only the time between filing and disposition is excluded," Stancil said. "Congress also specifically rejected a proposal to exclude pretrial motion preparation time."
The government's counsel disagrees and argues that the list of examples in the act's text is not exhaustive.
Third-year law students Mark Hiller and Alejandro Cruz were among the students who helped prepare the cert petition.
"It's both exciting and very gratifying, given the hard work everyone put in," Hiller said. "It's also pretty cool to check the Supreme Court's Web site and see that a petition you helped research and write has been granted."
The clinic's success "is really a testament to the hard work and investment of a group of very dedicated students, said Cruz, who also lauded the "fantastic guidance, support and direction" provided by law professors Stancil, Dan Ortiz and David Goldberg.
Students in the clinic identified the case while monitoring federal court dockets for possible certiorari candidates. St. Louis attorney Steve Welby handled the case in the lower court and now serves as co-counsel.
The Supreme Court grants certiorari in about 75 cases each year from among approximately 8,000 petitions for review.
"You learn never to count on the court granting cert in any particular case," Stancil said. "There was a clear conflict, and I thought we had a very strong cert petition, but you should always be a little bit surprised when the court grants cert, because the odds are firmly against you."