Ames Final Round

The Ames Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for appellate brief writing and advocacy in the country. The students participating in the Final Round started the competition in fall of their 2L year.  Two teams progressed to the Final Round through their strong research abilities and excellent written and oral advocacy. The Final Round is traditionally judged by this country’s preeminent jurists. Past Ames Competition winners include Professor Cass Sunstein, Dean Kathleen Sullivan, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and Justice Harry Blackmun. Click here for a list of past winners of the Competition.

This year’s competition will be held on the evening of Tuesday, November 18th, 2014, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the historic Ames Courtroom of Harvard Law School. The presiding judges this year are:

  • To be released shortly, check back soon!

This year’s finalist teams are:

The Franklin E. Kameny Memorial Team (Petitioner)

Jennifer Garnett
Ezra Marcus, oralist
Katie McCarthy, oralist
Jordan Moran
Ivan Panchenko
Tom Ryan

The Elliot L. Richardson Memorial Team (Respondent)

Jay Cohen
Cody Gray
Spencer Haught
Christina Martinez
Sean Mirski, oralist
Kevin Neylan, oralist

The case this year is Duke v. United States.  A brief description of the case is below.

In February 2009, a federal grand jury issued a two-count indictment against Jaden Duke, charging him with possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Duke subsequently entered into a written plea agreement pursuant to which he pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute 410 grams of crack cocaine in return for the government’s dismissal of the firearm charge. The plea agreement acknowledged the possibility that Duke would be sentenced as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1. The agreement further provided that, in exchange for the government’s concessions, Duke agreed to waive “any and all rights to a direct appeal of his conviction or sentence, including all rights conferred by 18 U.S.C. § 3742, except that Defendant retains the right to appeal any sentence imposed in excess of the statutory maximum sentence.” The District Court accepted Duke’s plea after engaging in a thorough colloquy designed to ensure that the plea was knowing and voluntary and that Duke understood the rights he was relinquishing, including his right to a direct appeal.

The probation office subsequently prepared a presentence report. The report concluded that Duke qualified as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1(a), which applies, inter alia, when the defendant has “at least two prior felony convictions of . . . a controlled substance offense.” The career-offender enhancement triggered a criminal history category of VI, and a base offense level of 37. After applying a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility, Duke’s offense level was 34. This yielded an advisory sentencing range of 262 to 327 months’ imprisonment. It is undisputed that in the absence of the career-offender enhancement, Duke would have had a criminal history category of IV and an offense level of 31, producing a sentencing range of 151 to 188 months’ imprisonment.

At sentencing, the District Court adopted the calculations in the presentence report and sentenced Duke to 262 months’ imprisonment. Consistent with the waiver in the plea agreement, Duke’s counsel did not file an appeal—even though Duke wished to do so. Duke’s sentence became final on November 14, 2009. But the year after Duke was sentenced, in light of new case law from the Supreme Court, the Ames Circuit held in United States v. Sanchez, — F.3d — (Ames Cir. Sept. 8, 2010) that the career offender determination must look at the actual defendant’s conviction, and not at a hypothetical offender, to determine whether a prior conviction was punishable by more than one year in prison. In light of Sanchez, the parties agree that Duke did not actually qualify as a career offender because his 1998 marijuana conviction did not expose him to a possible term of imprisonment exceeding one year under the Ames Structured Sentencing Act. In short, although the District Court cannot be faulted for failing to realize that its determination rested on bad law, it is now clear that Duke was erroneously sentenced as a career offender.

On November 3, 2010, shortly after release of the Sanchez case, Duke filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Duke’s petition failed at the District Court level because the court held that this did not constitute ineffective assistance in light of the waived right to appeal in the plea agreement. The District Court also denied Duke’s request for resentencing in light of the erroneous career offender enhancement, concluding that this type of sentencing error is not cognizable under § 2255. Desipte a split in the circuits on both issues, the Ames Circuit similarly held for the Respondent.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari on two questions:

1.  Whether counsel renders ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment by failing to file a notice of appeal at a defendant’s request when the defendant has waived his right to appeal in a plea agreement.

2.  Whether a prisoner may challenge his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 when an intervening change in law demonstrates that the prisoner was erroneously sentences as a career offender.

The Final Round Record and Briefs will be posted below at a later date:


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