From student to published researcher: Work of Saint Martin’s undergraduate to appear in law journal

April 25, 2011

LACEY, WASHINGTON — Last spring, just months before the start of her senior year, Saint Martin’s student Courtney Choi was seeking a topic for her senior thesis. One year later, Choi’s work is about to be published in a high-profile professional law journal — a rare honor for any undergraduate student.

Choi recently learned her thesis will appear in Criminal Law Bulletin, a professional law journal with a nearly five-decade history. Choi’s piece, since revised and co-written with Robert Hauhart, J.D., Ph.D., Saint Martin’s associate professor of criminal justice, is titled, “An Empirical and Jurisprudential Study of the Federal Courts’ Application of the Good Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule.” Once published in Criminal Law Bulletin, Choi and Hauhart will join a distinguished list of contributors that includes the late Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.

“The Criminal Law Bulletin is a highly regarded, peer-reviewed journal that publishes articles by nationally known legal commentators, law professors and practitioners,” says Hauhart, chair of Saint Martin’s Department of Criminal Justice/Legal Studies. “The fact that Courtney’s senior thesis could be revised to achieve acceptance in this caliber of publication tells you everything you need to know about the quality of her work.”

This marks the first time a Saint Martin’s undergraduate has been published in a law journal, according to Hauhart.

Choi’s path to publication began last fall when she submitted her thesis in her senior seminar class. Driven by a fascination with the court system, she chose to focus on the “good faith exception,” a rule related to the Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

“I found it striking that the court system has a history of creating rules and then exceptions or amendments to its own rules,” explains Choi.

The “good faith exception” applies to the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment. According to this rule, evidence obtained when the police fail to get a warrant or otherwise conduct an improper search or seizure can be excluded in the courts. However, in a 1984 case before the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Leon), the Court held that in some instances the error is purely technical in nature and, moreover, committed by someone other than the police (such as a court clerk or a magistrate). In these cases, where the police proceed in “good faith” on a technically invalid warrant, there may not be any reason to exclude the evidence in court because doing so would neither prevent police abuses in the future nor restore any rights that otherwise should have been protected. Since 1984, the 13 United States Circuit Courts of Appeal have heard, decided and issued opinions on about 700 cases involving the “good faith” exception designated by the Supreme Court. 

In her thesis, Choi asked and answered several questions about the exception.

“I read, analyzed and categorized 175 Federal Circuit Court opinions regarding ‘good faith,’” says Choi. “I wondered what these courts found in all these cases. Did the courts find that police were engaging in a lot of abusive practices and improper searches and seizures? Or, did the courts find a lot of technical errors — but otherwise ‘good faith’ practices by the police?”

Through her research, Choi discovered the courts found the police acted in “good faith” in about 65 percent of the cases. She also found that each circuit court applied the “good faith” doctrine differently. Some courts even used additional tests when analyzing cases that came to them on appeal.

Hauhart knew the thesis showed promise and encouraged Choi to edit the paper for publication. Over the course of several months, they worked together co-writing the final article, which they ultimately submitted to Criminal Law Bulletin. In March, Hauhart was notified the article had been selected for publication.

“My initial reaction was relief,” says Choi. “I had worked on the thesis for a semester, continued to work on it over winter break and through the better half of spring semester. It was a relief that hard work does pay off in the end.”

Choi’s research and revision for publication was a painstaking process. She says she could not have done it without the support and encouragement of Hauhart. “Saint Martin’s has allowed me the opportunity to work closely with the faculty,” she explains. “The small class sizes and general approachability of the professors really makes a student feel like they’re not just another face in the crowd.”

Choi will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Saint Martin’s on May 7. She is the first student to graduate from the University with a legal studies minor. At the University’s Honors Convocation and Scholars Day, held Tuesday, April 26, Choi will receive the Department of Criminal Justice Outstanding Senior Thesis Award.

Choi’s immediate plans include working full-time to pay off her student loans. On the horizon, law school may be a possibility. Hauhart is confident she will be a success in whatever path she follows.

“Courtney has the potential to achieve even more intellectual distinction in the future. She is a dedicated, industrious and disciplined student, and she deserves all the credit for developing her senior thesis in a way that made revision for publication a possibility,” says Hauhart.

“An Empirical and Jurisprudential Study of the Federal Courts' Application of the Good Faith Exception to the Exclusionary Rule” will be published in Volume 48, Number 2 of Criminal Law Bulletin, scheduled for release in early 2012.

Saint Martin’s University is an independent four-year, Catholic, coeducational university located on a 380-acre wooded campus in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 18 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 21 majors and six graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes 1,250 students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its main campus, and 650 more to its extension campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Everett College, Centralia College and Tacoma Community College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at www.stmartin.edu.

For further information:

Jennifer Fellinger
Office of Marketing and Communications
Saint Martin’s University
360-438-4332
jfellinger@stmartin.edu

Robert Hauhart, J.D., Ph.D.
Department of Criminal Justice/Legal Studies
Saint Martin’s University
360-438-4525
rhauhart@stmartin.edu