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Jenner & Block Partner Jessica Ring Amunson represents Rodney Class, a retired veteran who was convicted of and pleaded guilty to possessing firearms on US Capitol grounds. In Class vs. United States, Ms. Amunson argued that her client’s guilty plea does not bar him from appealing the conviction on Second Amendment and due process grounds. In a 6-3 decision announced on February 21, 2018, the Court held that “a guilty plea, by itself, does not bar a federal criminal defendant from challenging the constitutionality of his statute of conviction on direct appeal.”
“In this case, Class neither expressly nor implicitly waived his constitutional claims by pleading guilty,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch. The holding flows directly from the Court’s prior decisions, according to the opinion. The holding means that the earlier decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
This term, the firm has six cases before the Court; five of those are for pro bono clients. The Court’s decision in favor of Mr. Class is the second victory this term for a Jenner & Block pro bono client in the Supreme Court. On January 22, 2018, the Court agreed with arguments made by Partner Adam G. Unikowsky in Artis v. District of Columbia, a case that concerns the statute of limitations for litigants who file state-law claims in federal courts only to have those courts decline to exercise jurisdiction over those claims. The firm also represents pro bono clients in Marinello v. United States, argued by partner Matt Hellman on December 6, 2017; Gill v. Whitford, argued by former partner Paul M. Smith on October 3, 2017; and Abbott v. Perez, which has not yet been set for argument.
“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision,” said Ms. Amunson. “Mr. Class has maintained all along that he was convicted under an unconstitutional statute, and he will now have the chance to make those arguments to the court of appeals. As to the broader ramifications of the decision, as the dissent pointed out, roughly 95 percent of felony cases in federal and state courts are resolved by guilty pleas, so this decision potentially impacts a broad range of cases.”
In addition to Ms. Amunson, the team representing Mr. Class includes Associates Joshua M. Parker, Corinne M. Smith and Leonard R. Powell; Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson; Docket Assistant Tyler J. Edwards; and Legal Secretary Sheree A. Anyiam.