Students win Fourth Amendment case; defendant released from prison

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two brand-new Chicago-Kent grads had an extra incentive to celebrate this summer when a client they represented during law school was released from prison following their successful motion on his behalf.

Peter Cheun '16 (left) and Kayla Higgins '16
Peter Cheun '16 (left) and Kayla Higgins '16

Peter Cheun '16 and Kayla Higgins '16, both Chicago-Kent Honors Scholars, teamed with Dean Harold Krent last year to represent a client serving 18 years for cocaine possession. At an evidentiary hearing in June 2016 before the Cook County Circuit Court, they argued that the search leading to the client's arrest and subsequent conviction violated the Fourth Amendment. The case was dismissed on those grounds, and the defendant rejoined his wife and children after serving five and a half years in prison.

Kayla and Peter's work built on the efforts of Honors Scholars several years before who skillfully handled the appeal. We recently talked with Peter and Kayla about the case.

Getting started

Peter: This was truly a group effort that spanned multiple class years. It started as an appeal, which was first handled by the Honors Scholar Class of 2015 and led by Dean Krent and Chicago attorney Ralph Meczyk. After that group secured a remand, our Class of 2016 took on the task of getting up to speed on the facts of the case and developing legal arguments.

The hearing

Peter: I delivered the opening argument, Kayla handled the questioning of witnesses, and Dean Krent made the closing arguments. I prepared for the opening statement much like I prepared for moot court competitions during law school. I practiced delivering my arguments in front of colleagues, friends and family, and made sure that I would be ready to answer any of the judge's questions.

Kayla: The witnesses included our client, his wife, and his son. To prepare the questions, I took detailed notes on recent binding case law. Then I read through the trial transcripts, reviewed letters from our client, and interviewed our client and his family. Finally, I reviewed photographs of our client's property that helped depict the arguments we were advancing about the property's layout.

The judge's decision

Kayla: It was a wonderful moment to be there when our client heard the judge had decided in his favor. What's more, we had spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon outside the courtroom with our client's family, waiting for his case to be called. During that time I talked with his wife about how many years she had lived with the reality of having her husband in prison. So getting to share the great news with our client's wife and son was such a happy moment.

Peter: When the judge ruled in favor of our client, I felt more than the pride I had felt in law school competition victories. This was real life--I felt pure joy. Our client's wife and son were waiting outside the courtroom, and I couldn't wait to jump out there and watch them learn the good news.

Kayla: The hearing happened in June while I was in the middle of studying for the Illinois bar exam, and it was a great reminder of why I was putting so much effort into becoming a lawyer.


Kayla: This experience showed me what it means to have a legal "team" working on a case for years and years. I don't think I had ever before been involved in a case that had such a long lifespan, nor had I worked with so many talented lawyers and law students on a single case. It was really educational to see how each person contributed to the case's success by offering his or her unique talents, from research to legal writing to trial advocacy.

Peter: It also feels great that we played a small part in protecting our constitutional rights. This case touched on the Constitution's Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches, and this victory for our client will hopefully strengthen our legal system's understanding of this important right. I can't think of a better way to complement a legal education than to help reunite a family while also helping to contribute to the development of constitutional rights.