Appellate Litigation Clinic’s Work Frees Man Whose Sentence Was 14 Years Too Long

Jay Travis Williamson and Brock Phillips

Jay Travis Williamson and Brock Phillips stand in front of the courthouse in Cincinnati on the day of their Sixth Circuit arguments.

July 5, 2018

A pair of recent graduates who took part in this year’s Appellate Litigation Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law won freedom last week for their client, a Tennessee man who was over-sentenced on his burglary convictions.

Jay Travis Williamson and Brock Phillips, both 2018 graduates, argued in April as students before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. They contended that client Mark Hill’s convictions didn’t qualify for enhanced sentencing. His 24-year combined sentence should have actually been no more than 10 years, they said.

The appeal involved complicated questions arising from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions limiting the scope of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act. To qualify for enhancement under the act, the statute Hill was convicted under had to have been a “generic” burglary, but under the Tennessee Supreme Court’s guidance it was not, Williamson told the court.

Last month, the judges agreed with the pair's interpretation. The panel remanded the case back to district court, which on Friday ordered that Hill, who had already served the unenhanced 10-year statutory maximum for his crimes, be released within 10 days.

Director of Clinical Programs Stephen Braga, who also directs the appellate clinic, said the pair won the case because they “never gave up parsing the facts and analyzing the law applicable to this difficult case, on which the entire clinic team provided help."

Braga said their client called the result “too good to be true” and told them he would “never forget UVA.”

The clinic argued six cases during the academic year, two each in the Third, Fourth and Sixth circuits.

“And we already have three arguments scheduled for September,” Braga said.

Williamson will clerk for Judge Kevin A. Ohlson on the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces until August 2019. He will then transition into active duty in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps.

Phillips will begin work in August with the labor and employment practice group of Maynard Cooper & Gale in Birmingham.

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