Almost exactly one year to the day after the courts closed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, BC Defender Program Clinic student attorneys Nat Carney ’21 and Kayla Zerfoss ’21 appeared in the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court for a jury trial. The case was heard by the Honorable Lisa Ann Grant ’96.
The client was a young black man charged with assault and battery on a police officer at the police station where he was being booked after a traffic stop for driving without a license. The entire incident was on video and showed the client cooperative to the point of looking bored, until he was grabbed first by one officer and then taken to the ground by seven or eight white officers. He was alleged to have kicked one of the officers while he was on the ground.
Thanks to the advocacy of Carney and Zerfoss, the jury took only 18 minutes to return their verdict of not guilty. (The client was initially represented by Juliana Mieles ’20, who did not get to try the case before graduating because of the pandemic.)
For this year’s BC Law Defender clinic, which operates a single jury trial would have been significant, but it turned out to have been but one among many achievements this semester.
Six days after the jury trial, Zerfoss—this time accompanied by Sarah Nyaeme ’21—had a bench trial, also before Judge Grant. The students represented a young woman initially charged with three counts of assault and battery and three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (ABDW). For the bench trial, the Commonwealth moved forward with only one count of each of the charges.
Once again, the BC Defenders’ advocacy led to a positive outcome. The felony charge of ABDW was directed out by the judge, and then, after closing arguments, the client was found not guilty of assault and battery. This had been the client’s first criminal arrest, so the verdict helped keep alive her hope of attending law school one day. (Class of 2020 student Max Meglio originally represented this client but, like Mieles, couldn’t take the case to trial because of the pandemic.)
Meanwhile, Zerfoss also argued two different motions to dismiss in other cases. In both, the most serious offenses against her clients were dismissed by the court, leaving the defendants with options for resolving their cases. (One of these clients was previously represented by class of 2020 Defender Eliza Walker ’20).
Finally, as the semester was nearing its end, the BC Defenders team, which also included Kyle Amell, Shawn Petrini, Jesslin Wooliver, and Sarah Carlow, was handling an additional four jury trials and a motion-to-suppress evidentiary hearing.
“This term’s BC Defenders have all mocked, edited, supported, and worked so hard together on all of these cases,” said Visiting Professor Kari Tannenbaum, who directs the BC Defender Program Clinic, which is among BC Law’s Criminal Justice Clinics. “The work they have done has been incredible and it is all being done while wearing masks and keeping socially distant. I couldn’t be prouder of all they have accomplished for these hearings and for almost 40 total clients this year.”
Photo: From left to right, Sarah Carlow , Kyle Amell (front), Shawn Petrini (back), Jesslin Wooliver, Professor Kari Tannenbaum, Sarah Nyaeme, Nat Carney, and Kayla Zerfoss. T-shirts designed by Wooliver.