By Eilidh Jenness
At this year’s Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge (AMC3), student teams of two to five members will argue each side of a case titled “Janus vs. U.S.” before the Tennessee Intercollegiate Supreme Court. Five court justices selected the case after previous AMC3 competitors shared their preferences in a poll via email. When questioned about the significance of this particular case, Sam Adkisson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, commented that it involves “issues that are really up in the air in the United States… [and that] they’re timely.”
The case is so pertinent today because it calls attention to the questionable constitutionality of retrieving encrypted data from a suspect’s computers and other personal technological devices, which are fairly recent innovations and new possibly incriminating sources. In the “Janus vs. U.S.” case, the government accuses George Janus of smuggling MDMA, widely known as “ecstasy,” at his full-service auto shop. The police question him about his cell phone before reading him his Miranda rights, which are meant to protect subjects of direct questioning from a violation of their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination, and they later ask for the password to his computer while searching for potentially incriminating information.
Janus pleads guilty but reserves the right to appeal on these two issues that are now before the Supreme Court. Students will debate over whether or not the “routine booking” exception to Miranda applies to the questions regarding Janus’ property and whether or not Janus is protected under the Fifth Amendment from compulsory disclosure of encrypted data from his personal electronic devices.
When prompted, Adkisson advised new competitors to “know the rules [of the court], know the handbook, [and] know the rules of the competition” to ensure success, but he has typically been very impressed with students’ performances in the past. Each team will submit a brief two weeks before the conference and present oral arguments at the AMC3 competition.