United States v. Tinker: The Eleventh Circuit’s Standards for Compassionate Releases

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Authored By: Vina Nguyen

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Prisons in the United States are notoriously unhygienic and so overpopulated and close-knit that it almost impossible to maintain a six-foot distance between inmates every day. [1] Thus, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, one of the hugest populations at risk were prisoners. [2] Scared for their lives with this unknown disease, prisoners flooded courts with motions for compassionate releases pursuant 18 U.S.C. § 3585(c)(1)(A). [3] Under the First Step Act, an act whose purpose was to reduce prison populations, defendants could seek a motion for a reduced sentence under 18 U.S.C. §3583(c)(1)(A). [4] Despite finding the COVID-19 pandemic to be an “extraordinary and compelling” circumstance, the vast majority of these motions were denied. Continue reading “United States v. Tinker: The Eleventh Circuit’s Standards for Compassionate Releases”

Chilling Winter for Both Oil and Gas Industry and American Households

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Authored By: Taylor Sims

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

            Steadily increasing gas prices, looming heating costs—all amidst United States inflation at a 31-year high appear may pose the most ominous winter storm of all this year.[1]  This month, OPEC and its oil-producing allies responded to President Biden’s call for greater energy production on the global front.[2]  Specifically, OPEC retorted that “if the United States believes the world’s economy needs more energy, then it has the capability to increase production itself.”[3]  Now, President Biden finds himself pulled by opposing forces: the necessity for the United States to produce a sufficient oil supply and environmental promises to limit U.S. production of hydrocarbons. Continue reading “Chilling Winter for Both Oil and Gas Industry and American Households”

Potential Unconstitutional Bankruptcy Fee Hike Causes a Split Among the Circuits: Headed to the Supreme Court

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Authored By: Katie Larsen

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Fees collected from debtors who have filed bankruptcy fund the Justice Department’s U.S. Trustee (UST) Program, which oversees the administration of bankruptcy cases in 48 states.[1]  The exception to the rule is Alabama and North Carolina, as Congress established the bankruptcy administration (BA) program to administer and monitor cases in the six judicial districts in those states in 1986.;[2]  Starting in 2018, Congress amended the Bankruptcy Judgeship Act[3] to increase U.S. Trustee Program quarterly fees for all debtors who file bankruptcy within the UST program.[4] Continue reading “Potential Unconstitutional Bankruptcy Fee Hike Causes a Split Among the Circuits: Headed to the Supreme Court”

Vaccine Mandates: Shots or You’re Fired

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Authored By: Isom Carden

Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          For individuals all over the United States, 2020 was a year to remember, and hopefully a year to eventually forget.  On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic.[i]  Soon after being declared a global pandemic, the United States took action with mask mandates, the closure of schools and businesses, no sail orders for cruise ships, and travel restrictions with airflights.[ii]  As two weeks turned into two months, and then into over a year, the question remains… will we ever get back to normal? Continue reading “Vaccine Mandates: Shots or You’re Fired”

Carter v. Companion Life Ins. Co. and the Use of Errata Sheets to Modify Deposition Testimony

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Authored By: Owen Mattox

Articles Editor, American Journal of Trial Advocacy

          Few individuals would complain about a party making efforts to correct a court reporter’s errant keystrokes or other immaterial errors contained within a deposition. But when it comes to altering significant portions of a deponent’s testimony, things can get contentious. A recent decision in Carter v. Companion Life Ins. Co. highlighted the use of “errata sheets” when altering testimony and addressed the two approaches courts around the country have used to determine whether substantive changes to deposition testimony are permitted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(e). Continue reading “Carter v. Companion Life Ins. Co. and the Use of Errata Sheets to Modify Deposition Testimony”

The Right to Remain Silent: A Retrospective of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in the United States

Author: Michael Mears


          The right to remain silent began in our justice system because of the trials and tribulations of a long line of martyrs.  According to an exhaustive study of the development of this area of common law by Leonard Levy, the first person on record to suffer death because he asserted his right to remain silent was John Lambert.  Upon being accused of the infamous crime of heresy in 1537, Lambert told his inquisitors, “though I did remember . . . yet were I more than twice a fool to show you thereof; for it is written in your own law, ‘[n]o man is bound to . . . accuse himself.”

            In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the draconian Star Chamber contributed to the development of the right to remain silent.  Active in the Tudor and early Stuart periods of English history, the Court of Star Chamber was an outgrowth of the royal council and consisted of judges and privy councillors.  The purpose of the Star Chamber was to give greater speed and flexibility to common-law courts and equity courts in both civil and criminal matters.  As a result of the ruthless inquisitorial nature of the Star Chamber judges, the term has become synonymous with secret, oppressive, or irresponsible court proceedings.

            The Star Chamber was eventually abolished by the British House of Commons in 1641, in large part because of the bravery and unswerving dedication of the immortal John Lilburne.  He was steadfastly dedicated to maintaining his right to remain silent, even in the face of his inquisitors, and he refused to convict himself of a crime by waiving that right.  Lilburne was committed to prison by the Court of Star Chamber after two of his associates accused him of importing seditious books in order to save their own lives.  Under the law at that time, to secure a conviction for his crime the government needed Lilburne’s confession in addition to the accusations of his associates.  When the Star Chamber brought him before the judges, Lilburne refused to take the oath or answer any questions.  He was found guilty of contempt and was sentenced to public whipping and locked in the pillory in the middle of London.  He was subsequently whipped over 200 times on the two-mile walk to the pillory, and his remarkable courage to withstand the punishment rather than confess won him instant fame.  On the way to the pillory and between floggings, Lilburne told the assembled crowds that the “law of God . . . requires no man to accuse himself.”  Then, in November of 1640, a new member of Parliament delivered an impassioned speech in support of John Lilburne’s freedom, which subsequently led to his and other prisoners’ release.  Parliament met in April 1641 and determined that Lilburne’s imprisonment and punishment were “illegal and against the liberty of the subject” and ordered that he be released and receive reparations for his suffering.

            Although Parliament freed Lilburne, the House of Commons had not established the right to remain silent by law, but it did establish the right against self-incrimination.  Under the common law, torture was illegal when its purpose was to extort confessions, and common law has long accepted, at least abstractly, that one should not force a person to accuse himself.  Still, there was no official recognition that a refusal to answer incriminating questions did not imply guilt.  It was not until John Lilburne’s courageous stand that the law afforded the right of an accused person to remain silent in common law proceedings.            

          However, John Lilburne’s contributions to the development of the right to remain silent did not end with his vindication by Parliament.  After John Lilburne and one of his associates, Richard Overton, published pamphlets attacking Lord Cromwell in 1649, he was promptly rearrested and returned to prison.  At his trial, John Lilburne again refused to answer any questions and, in addition, he demanded the right to have counsel, time to consult with that counsel, the right to subpoena witnesses in his favor, and a copy of his indictment.  At the end of the trial, the jury returned a not guilty verdict after deliberating for just one hour and Lilburne was once again freed.

The Jury Is Still Out: Waiver or Conversion of the Seventh Amendment Right to Jury Trial in Bankruptcy Cases

Author: Theresa J. Pulley Radwan


The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right to a jury trial in certain civil proceedings.  In the more than 200 years since the adoption of the Seventh Amendment, the United States Supreme Court has provided guidance on its applicability in a variety of proceedings, including those filed under the United States Bankruptcy Code and heard by the bankruptcy courts.  Although this guidance on the intersection of the Seventh Amendment and bankruptcy law clarifies the right to jury trial of some creditors, issues remain regarding a variety of situations in bankruptcy cases.  The way Supreme Court precedent impacts these rights has garnered significant attention, and widespread acceptance exists as to the propriety of Supreme Court caselaw at the core of bankruptcy jury trial opinions.  This Article reconsiders the Supreme Court’s guidance in light of other non-bankruptcy Supreme Court cases and suggests reconsideration of the bases for those opinions as a foundation for future decisions on the ability of a party to seek a jury trial in bankruptcy matters.

The Bill Clinton Exception to the Hearsay Rule

Author: James J. Duane


          Hearsay is usually inadmissible at a trial, although there are exceptions for certain categories of hearsay that are deemed unusually trustworthy or necessary for ascertaining the truth.  When the Federal Rules of Evidence were enacted in 1975, they contained a hearsay exception for “Statements in Ancient Documents,” applicable to almost everything written at least two decades before the trial.  It is not known who first came up with the name for this hearsay exception, but it was most likely a teenager; not many other people would describe someone or something as “ancient” merely because that person or thing is over twenty years old.

            When first enacted, this exception provided that such a document would be admissible, regardless of whether its author was still alive and available to testify, as long as it satisfied the requirements of this definition: “Statements in ancient documents.  Statements in a document in existence 20 years or more whose authenticity is established.”  Likewise, the authentication provisions of the Federal Rules state that such “ancient documents,” if twenty years old by the time of trial, could be established as authentic merely by virtue of their age, as long as their condition and location created no grounds for suspicion concerning their authenticity.

          After four decades on the books, however, this hearsay exception underwent a dramatic revision just a few years ago.  As this Article will demonstrate, the process leading to that amendment was more than a little halting and haphazard.  It included, among other novelties, the adoption of a new rule, without the benefit of public comment, after the Advisory Committee sought and obtained widespread public input on a different plan that the Committee later abandoned.  The result of this peculiar process was a new rule that no longer matches its name or its officially stated justification, and that injects an unfortunate and unprecedented degree of terminological inconsistency into the Evidence Rules.  It has left us with a new rule that now requires a new name—a rule that can be perhaps best described as “The Bill Clinton Exception to the Hearsay Rule.”

Claiming the Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege Under Alabama Law When a Plaintiff in a Civil Case Seeks Mental Anguish Damages

Authors: Terrence W. McCarthy & Logan T. Matthews


          For a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, there has been a longstanding debate in many jurisdictions about whether a claim asserting mental anguish damages should serve as a waiver of the psychotherapist-patient privilege or whether a defendant should be entitled to discover and introduce evidence of the plaintiff-patient’s confidential communications with a psychotherapist at trial.  Although courts around the country have differing views on this issue, Alabama law is clear: filing a civil lawsuit that seeks mental anguish damages, standing alone, does not serve as a waiver of the psychotherapist-patient privilege.

            The soundness of this rule is the subject of frequent debate, and there are valid arguments on both sides.  On the one hand, if a defendant is not entitled to discover such evidence or introduce it at trial, a defendant may be hamstrung to dispute that its conduct was a contributing cause to the plaintiff’s alleged mental anguish.  For example, suppose a plaintiff has suffered from life-long depression.  In that case, it may be helpful for a defendant to know about the plaintiff’s mental health evaluations or psychotherapist treatment records which precede the lawsuit-triggering event to dispute that the defendant’s conduct was the real cause of the plaintiff’s mental anguish.  On the other hand, if communications between a patient and her psychotherapist are not privileged, a patient may not have the same candor with her psychotherapist, and a psychotherapist may be unable to provide the treatment necessary to relieve a plaintiff-patient of her mental anguish.  Balancing these interests is at the heart of Alabama’s law on the psychotherapist-patient privilege.

            To date, Alabama courts have found that the balance between these competing interests weighs against disclosure when all that is in play is a civil plaintiff suing for mental anguish damages.  But, Alabama courts have found that the balance tips in favor of disclosure in certain cases, typically where an overriding interest is at play.  For example, the mental condition of a parent in a child custody dispute, a defendant’s mental state in an involuntary commitment proceeding, or when the plaintiff has waived her right to claim the privilege.

            This Article discusses the background and general scope of Alabama’s psychotherapist-patient privilege.  Then, it describes what the privilege does not cover.  Next, the Article explains ways plaintiffs can waive the privilege.  To illustrate these waiver concepts, this Article walks through five situations that may arise in a civil lawsuit and discusses how claims of psychotherapist-patient privilege might be analyzed.

Closing the Deal: Principles of Closing Argument Grounded in Empirical Studies and Lessons of the Masters

Author: Harry Mitchell Caldwell


A sound closing argument can indeed close the deal.  A well-executed argument pulls together the evidence in a compelling, persuasive, and successful statement.  Conversely, a closing argument that pontificates and opines, rehashes testimony, or continues ad nauseam, fails to engage the jury and has a diminished chance of success.  There are scores of lawyers trying cases; there are far fewer who lift trial advocacy to an art.  It is to that lofty plane that this Article is dedicated.

Drawing on empirical data studying audience responsiveness, retention, and persuasiveness coupled with excerpts from master trial lawyers, advocates have learned valuable lessons.  The lessons include respecting the collective intelligence of the jury by reasoning with them rather than pontificating at them, sounding themes favoring the advocate’s case, using stories and anecdotes as clarifiers, creating a list to organize critical evidence, studying and responding to juror body language, mitigating harmful evidence, and avoiding wordiness.