SLS Students Win Dismissal Mid-Trial For Innocent Bystander in Police Use of Force Case

Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic students Ashley Williams (JD ’16) and Taylor Davidson (JD ’16), under the supervision of supervising attorney Suzanne Luban, won full dismissal for an innocent client in the middle of a trial in Santa Clara County Superior Court earlier this week on Tuesday, May 12.

SLS Students Win Dismissal Mid-Trial For Innocent Bystander in Police Use of Force Case
Taylor Davidson, Ashley Williams, and Suzanne Luban debrief during trial

The client, an African-American small business owner, was arrested on October 31, 2014 outside a local bar while bearing witness to the use of force by police against his friend who had been resisting security guards and police officers inside the bar. The client’s companion was handcuffed, arrested, and punched in the rib. Then, he was taken outside and across the street to a police squad car. The client followed his friend and the police outside. From 25 feet away, he asked his companion for his mother’s phone number so he could tell her about her son’s plight. The police claimed that the client was delaying their work and they arrested him.

The client was handcuffed and detained in a squad car for 45 minutes. After his release, he began filming police conduct towards his friend, who was still on the scene. As captured on the video footage, the client’s friend was taken out of a police car, stood up by four police officers, and punched in the stomach. The officers then slammed his head into the side of a police car.

The clinic’s client was charged with resisting, obstructing, and delaying a police officer under California Penal Code Section 148(a)(1). He asserted his innocence from the start, and turned down multiple plea deal offers from the district attorney. Ultimately, he insisted on a trial by jury.

After a readiness conference, both defense and prosecution submitted motions in limine on Friday, May, 8. Ashley and Taylor prepared opening and closing statements, six cross examinations, and two direct examinations in preparation for the trial. They conducted a three-week long investigation and brought several exhibits to court for use in the trial.

The trial began and motions in limine were argued on Monday, May 11. Though the judge excluded the video evidence of police brutality from testimony, Ashley and Taylor won several important motions – including exclusion of their client’s prior convictions and an order from the judge mandating the prosecutor to turn over evidence of a use of force investigation that had been conducted in the case.

Ashley and Taylor showed the prosecutor enlarged photos of the scene outside the bar that were intended to be used in evidence. They also provided a list of witnesses who were prepared to corroborate their client’s testimony. A few hours after the argument on motions in limine, the prosecutor dismissed the case.

Taylor and Ashley were assisted by their six Criminal Defense Clinic classmates and both instructors, who provided invaluable support in preparation. The client, who has four children and is planning to get married in June, was overjoyed. He can return to his drywall business without fear of a criminal conviction. He was fully exonerated in a case of police wrongdoing.