Shannon L. Laoye 3L is the 2015 TJSL nominee for the prestigious Burton Award. On June 15, 2015, the Burton Awards will host its 16th annual gala at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where members of the legal, academic, political, and scholarly fields will celebrate significant accomplishments in the law and recognize legal writing. Patterned after the Pulitzers, the non-profit program is one of the most prominent and dynamic awards programs in the legal community.
“I was in complete shock,” said Laoye. “I am truly honored and I feel extremely blessed to have been nominated for such a prestigious award, especially since there were so many excellent student publications. I can only hope that my Note inspires others and stimulates social and judicial change.”
Professor Marjorie Cohn, Laoye’s directed study advisor, was delighted when she heard the news. Professor Cohn described the Note as “excellent - complex statutory interpretation and extremely well-written.”
Laoye’s Law Review Note, Innocent Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, 36 T. Jefferson L. Rev. 309 (2014), discusses and proposes a solution to the unanswered legal question of whether a state prisoner with a freestanding actual innocence claim is entitled to federal habeas relief. The Note provides statistics on those wrongfully incarcerated, reviews the evolution of the writ of habeas corpus, addresses the Court’s federalism, separation of powers and policy concerns, and proposes criteria outlining when federal habeas corpus relief should be granted. The Note also develops the “extraordinarily high” proof of evidence standard suggested by the Court should petitioners seek relief based on a freestanding claim of innocence and applies the proposed standard to an ongoing California Innocent Project case.
“My involvement and commitment to public interest work spans over a decade,” said Laoye. “In 2003, I began studying the social sciences at San Jose State University and interned at a local group home on weekends. In 2008, I graduated with a Master’s degree in Business Administration and started a small organization for at-risk youth. My desire to make a life-changing impact has led me to intern with the California Innocence Project, the Juvenile Public Defender’s Office, the Law Office of Charles Sevilla, and the Dependency Legal Group, San Diego (DLG). In addition to interning, I am a member of several service driven organizations such as the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), the Earl B Gilliam Bar Association (EBGBA), Phi Alpha Delta Fraternity Inc. (PAD), and the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF).”
“This is one of the most pleasant jobs I have occasionally enjoyed while chairing the Faculty Law Review Committee,” said Professor Bryan Wildenthal. Professor Wildenthal expressed how difficult it was to make a choice this year but explained that Ms. Laoye’s Note was selected because of its overall combination of excellent writing, the challenging legal problem effectively addressed, and the practical solution offered.
In recognition of her hard work and achievements, Shannon Laoye has been the recipient of several accolades, including: the National Bar Association (NBA) Gertrude E. Rush Award, the EBGBA Judicial Scholarship, and the Western Regional BLSA Scholar of the Year Award. She is slated to graduate Magna Cum Laude in May and plans to continue working for social justice and equality-speaking for those whose voices often go unheard.
If chosen for the Burton Awards, Ms. Laoye will join other TJSL winners including: Jennifer Siverts '06 in 2006, Anne Knight '08 in 2008, Skye Resendes '11 in 2010, Sean E. Smith '11 in 2011 and Robert M. Sagerian ’13 in 2014.