Client travels around the country visiting family after Spolin Law gets wrongful murder charges dismissed.Published on June 22, 2021
A former Spolin Law client visited the firm’s main office and shared with his lawyers what he has been doing since his release. The client had been wrongfully charged with a gang related murder and held in custody for nearly a year. (For more details about his case, read the original article written the day after his case was dismissed.) Last week the client met with five of the firm’s lawyers as well as some members of the firm’s administrative team.
After walking out of custody a free man, the client visited family all over the country to reconnect, celebrate his release, and begin the exciting next phase of his life. Much of his time was spent in Chicago and Los Angeles, where many of his family and friends live. And of course he has not forgotten to spend a great deal of time with his mother, who probably spent even more time than the Spolin Law lawyers in fighting to secure her son’s release.
In recounting his travels and celebrating his newfound freedom, the client met with the lawyers who had directly represented him, including Aaron Spolin, and Jeremy Cutcher. Two other attorneys on his legal defense team were not present: Caitlin Dukes and Matt Delgado (of counsel). Attorneys Don Nguyen, Arlene Binder, and Dan DeMaria had not represented him but were present for the happy occasion. Also present was law firm manager Dionne Parker; one of the firms case managers, Hemi Tann; and the mailroom manager Michael Alfi. The Spolin Law attorneys and staff were excited to hear about further travel and life plans in the client’s future.
To speak with Aaron Spolin or any of the firm’s attorneys about your case, call us at (866) 716-2805.
How long does a California appeal take?Published on June 12, 2021
Filing a criminal appeal in California is oftentimes a drawn out and complicated process. If you plan on taking appellate action, knowing the basics of how it functions is crucial. The length of this appeals process varies from case to case, ranging anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. Nevertheless, while some cases may take longer than others to resolve, it is important that all appeals are filed quickly after a conviction sentencing.
Before filing, you must first confirm that you have a case that warrants an appeal. It is important that you reach out to an appellate attorney, who will look through the details of your case to identify any legal errors and advise you on what next steps may be.
If the attorney confirms you are eligible, and you decide to proceed with an appeal, you will start the appellate process by filing a Notice of Appeal in the superior court. For misdemeanor cases, the deadline to file is 30 days from the date of judgement. Felony offenses, on the other hand, hold a 60 day deadline.
While direct appeals must be filed within this 30 and 60 day window, there are other types of post conviction relief that may be submitted after this deadline has passed. Common examples include a California Writ of Habeas Corpus and an Application for Commutation of Sentence.
Can I file a late appeal?
In some cases, extensions may be granted for defendants who miss the designated deadline. In compliance with the 2018 California Rules of Court, in instances of public emergency, defendants will receive a longer time window to appeal.
Additionally, in the event that your attorney fails to provide proper assistance during the appeals filing process, the traditional 30 or 60 day deadline no longer applies. For example, if your attorney does not inform you of your right to appeal or provides misinformation about the deadline of your appeal, you may be eligible for an extension.
Furthermore, cases of constructive filing also serve as a proper grounds for appellate extension. This occurs when the appeal does not make it to the courthouse on time despite genuine efforts from the defendant. Filing the appeal with the wrong court or mailing delays that are out of your control are just some instances in which a constructive filing extension may be offered.
Certificate of Probable Cause
In addition to submitting a Notice of Appeal, you must file a Certificate of Probable Cause (CPC) which legitimizes the basis of the appeal. The court then receives 20 days to review the submission and either grant or deny the CPC.
Notice of Designation Record on Appeal
Within 10 days of filing your Notice of Appeal, you must also file a Notice of Designation Record on Appeal. Doing so will notify the involved parties (including the court clerk, court report etc) and facilitate the collecting of trial records and transcripts which will be used in the appellate proceedings.
Once the primary paperwork has been completed and all the trial records have been compiled, the next step in the appellate process is the preparation of the opening brief. In an opening brief, your appeals attorney provides a summary of your trial, presents their argument, and requests a certain outcome.
The opening brief is expected to be submitted within 40 days of when the Notice of Designation Record on Appeal was filed. This is followed by the respondent’s brief which is filled by the opposing counsel within 30 days of the opening brief. Lastly, once the respondent’s brief is filed, the appellant is given 20 days to counter the respondent’s brief what is called the reply brief.
The next steps in the appellate process are the oral arguments, during which attorneys will be given the chance to argue their case in person and answer any lingering questions the presiding judge may have. You can expect these oral arguments to take place a few weeks after the filing of the briefs.
Contact Spolin Law P.C. About an Appeal in California
If you or a loved one plan on appealing a criminal conviction or have questions about your eligibility for an appeal or extension, don’t hesitate to reach out to Spolin Law P.C. today.
Governor Grants Commutation for Yet Another Spolin Law ClientPublished on June 3, 2021
The Firm’s Clients Have Now Been Included in 66% of All Commutation Batches Carried Out by Governor Gavin Newsom.
For the second time in a row, a Spolin Law client was included in Governor Gavin Newsom’s summer commutation batch, which occurred last Friday. The client and his family were beyond excited to learn that the client’s life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence had been removed by the governor. The client is now eligible to re-enter society through the parole process.
Historically, some governors have waited until the end of their terms to issue commutations and pardons. However, Governor Gavin Newsom has been issuing large batches of commutations every summer throughout his term. This has included a batch in August of 2019, June of 2020, and May of 2021. Spolin Law is proud to note that the firm’s clients have been included in the last two of these three batches issued by Governor Newsom.
In publicly announcing the commutation, Governor Newsom had the following words to say about the client:
In 1995, Omar Walker and his crime partner committed a robbery. The crime partner shot and killed the victim. On November 25, 1997, the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, sentenced Mr. Walker to life without the possibility of parole for murder and three years for three counts of robbery, plus 16 years and eight months of sentence enhancements.
…. While serving a sentence with no hope of release, Mr. Walker has devoted himself to his self-improvement. Mr. Walker completed vocational training and has engaged in extensive self-help programming. He is currently assigned to the Delancey Street Honors Unit, a program that teaches job and life skills in preparation for release….
Mr. Walker participated in a serious crime that took the victim’s life. Since then, Mr. Walker has dedicated himself to his rehabilitation and becoming a productive citizen. I have carefully considered and weighed the evidence of Mr. Walker’s positive conduct in prison, the fact that he was a youthful offender, and his good prospects for successful community reentry….
This act of clemency for Mr. Walker does not minimize or forgive his conduct or the harm it caused. It does recognize the work he has done since to transform himself.
Commuting a sentence is one of the Governor’s most powerful abilities. State governors (like Governor Newsom) are able to commute sentences or pardon convicts for individuals convicted of state crimes. The President of the United States is able to commute and pardon for federal crimes.
To learn more about commutations and other types of post-conviction relief, call one of the lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. We are available at (866)-716-2805.
What Happens If You Lose an AppealPublished on May 22, 2021
With the recent introduction of new laws and the revision of old ones, the chances of winning a criminal appeal in the state of California have slowly been on the rise. Reaching a record 20% success rate, now is as good a time as ever to pursue appellate action and achieve the fair result you deserve.
Despite this hopeful incline, however, the reality of it is that many appeals are not granted. But losing an appeal doesn’t mean you have to give up your fight for justice. As you will see below, there are many different pathways you can take after a failed appellate petition.
Option 1) Petition for Rehearing: By petitioning for a rehearing, you are asking the court to review the appellate court’s ruling in the search for large legal irregularities such as a major misstatement of fact or error of law. If you wish to petition for a rehearing, you must do so within 15 days of the official appellate court’s decision. This is a very strict window so it is important that you act fast and enlist the help of a proper legal team.
Option 2) Petition for Review by Supreme Court: While not as common, if you lose your appeal, you do have the option to challenge the decision in hopes of taking your case to the Supreme Court. However, it is important to recognize that the Supreme Court has the authority to turn away any cases they do not want to review. Furthermore, the granting of such review is typically reserved for cases regarding legal issues that are of great importance or those that have never come before the courts.
Because an appellate court decision becomes final within 30 days of its release, the state enforces a strict 10 day deadline to submit this request for review by the Supreme Court.
Option 3) Pursue other types of Post Conviction Relief: A Writ of Habeas Corpus, for instance, is a common type of post conviction relief that is available to those who have exhausted all other appeal options, and may offer hope to someone who just received an undesired appellate decision. Furthermore, unlike the other two options, writs of habeas corpus do not come with a strict submission deadline and you have a little more leeway in terms of when you want to file.
However, before you proceed with a Writ of Habeas Corpus, you must make sure you are eligible for this type of post conviction relief. Some common grounds for such an appeal include ineffective assistance of counsel, jury misconduct, judicial misconduct, violation of due process, prison conditions that violate civil rights, or lack of speedy and public trial. Additionally, with a Writ of Habeas Corpus, new evidence may be introduced if discovered.
However, successfully arguing Habeas Corpus relief is no easy feat and it can be extremely difficult if you don’t have a strong team of appellate lawyers on your side. We recognize that this may be your last chance at relief and are prepared to treat your case with care and passion. Aaron Spolin has filled countless Writs of Habeas Corpus and has been consistently recognized for his work in this area of law. With guidance of Aaron and his experienced legal staff, fighting an unsuccessful appeal isn’t as daunting as it may seem.
How do you find a case in the Texas Court of Appeals?Published on May 14, 2021
In most cases, civil and criminal court proceedings are public record. Whether you are a defendant checking the status of your case, an attorney researching the details of a trial, or simply someone looking to browse, all the information you need is at the touch of your fingertips.
On March 2, Governor Greg Abbott announced that Texas would reopen 100%, effective immediately. Now, as state courts start to reopen and postponed trials are finally receiving court dates, knowing how to find cases in the Texas Court of Appeals will become an ever important skill that can help you stay up to date with the details of a case.
The first step in searching for a case is locating the docket number that has been assigned to that case. Defendants can find this number on their case documents.
Those who don’t have access to these documents can find the docket number by reaching out to the local court clerk. As long as you can provide the party’s name and the county where the case is being heard, a court clerk can quickly access the number for you.
Once you have identified the correct docket number, you can use it to search for the case on the Texas Court of Appeals’ website. To complete the search, input the number into the section titled “appellate case #” at the top of the screen and press the button that says “find my case.” The website will then prompt you to fill out a page of case information, including the county, type of offense, the filing date etc., to help narrow the search.
After you have this completed, the site will compile a list of cases that fit the criteria. Once you find your case, you will be able to click on it and find the basic details of the case such as the parties and attorneys involved as well as any important dates related to the case. Additionally, you will have access to all court materials involved in the case, including hearings, filings, decisions etc.
What are some alternative ways to search for Texas appellate cases?
While using a docket number is the easiest way to find a case, there are other ways to access such information. Many websites, like Findlaw or Justia, offer free, online access to all Texas Appellate Court decisions. When using these sites, a docket number is not required to locate a case. All you need are the names of the parties involved or the name of the county court.
You can also use case law databases to find case information. Programs like Google Scholar allow you to browse for cases by subject, location, or year.
Making use of these available resources to track down cases will allow you to stay organized and well informed on the details of a case. Doing so will ease the appellate process and may help produce a more favorable outcome.
What does it mean to appeal a conviction?Published on May 7, 2021
If someone is convicted in the state of Texas, they reserve the right to challenge their unfavorable conviction by filling an appeal. In doing so, they request that the decision made by the lower court be reviewed by a higher court for any errors. If the appeal is granted, the conviction may be overturned or the case may be remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.
However, it is important to note that not all cases can be appealed. Filing an appeal does not give the petitioner the chance to simply retry their case or present new evidence. Rather, the Texas Court of Appeals was established to examine whether a legal mistake was made during the defendant’s original court proceedings that may have impacted the outcome of the trial.
When determining if such an error was made, the appellate court reviews the court reporter’s transcript (which entails a record of all oral proceedings), the clerk transcript (a collection of the trial’s exhibits, motions, documents), as well as the arguments presented by the appellate attorney.
What are the grounds for appeal in Texas?
In Texas, some of the most common and effective grounds for appeal include:
1) False arrest
When arguing “false arrest,” the defendant must prove that their arrest was unlawful and that the arresting officer did not have the authority to detain them. To do so, the defendant may point to a lack of probable cause or the absence of a Texas arrest warrant at the time of their detainment. Additionally, if their arrest was prompted by a search that violated Texas search and seizure laws, the defendant could appeal their conviction under the “false arrest” statute.
2) Improper admission or exclusion of evidence
Before a trial begins, the presiding judge holds a meeting with the attorneys to review the evidentiary exhibits and decide which pieces are going to be allowed to be used in court and which ones are to be excluded.
It is during this process that the judge can mistakenly admit a piece of evidence that should have been excluded or, in contrast, reject a piece of evidence that should be allowed to be presented in court. The improper admission or exclusion of evidence is likely to have a great impact on the verdict of the trial and hence is an advantageous ground on which to appeal a Texas criminal conviction.
3) Ineffective assistance of counsel
In some cases, the defendant’s legal counsel may be the one at fault. When one appeals on the grounds of “ineffective assistance of counsel,” they must prove that their attorney’s poor performance negatively impacted the outcome of their case, depriving them of their 6th amendment right to a fair trial.
4) Jury misconduct
In a jury trial, it is important that the jurors remain impartial and honorable. If, however, the jurors participate in any sort of illegal behavior that impacts the outcome of a case and compromises the defendant’s right to fair trial, “jury misconduct” is another strong argument on which to build an appellate defense. Some examples of jury misconduct include, a refusal to deliberate, performing outside research on the facts of the case, or the purposeful release of information that could threaten the impartiality of the jury.
Texas Felony Sentencing GuidelinesPublished on May 1, 2021
In Texas, felony offenses and their punishments are organized by levels, beginning at capital felonies, then to first degree, second degree, third degree, and state jail felonies, from most to least serious. The charges and consequences of crimes in Texas vary greatly, depending on the defendant’s criminal history, age, and the nature of the offense itself. Texas uses determinate sentencing, meaning the punishment for a crime committed is decided based off of previously set sentencing guidelines.
Capital Felony In Texas
A capital felony is the most serious offense in Texas. This category includes crimes such as capital murder and treason. The punishment for a capital felony depends on the age of the offender and whether or not the state decides to seek the death penalty. If the state does seek the death penalty, the offender faces life without parole or death, whereas if the state does not seek it, the offender faces life without parole. While this applies to the majority of cases, in situations where the offender is < 18 years of age at the time the offense was committed, they are not eligible for life without parole.
First Degree Felony
First degree felonies are the second most serious offenses in Texas. These crimes come with severe punishments but cannot have the death penalty imposed. First degree felonies are crimes such as attempted capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and aggravated sexual assault.
An offender with a clean record will face a sentence of 5 – 99 years or life in prison for a first degree felony. Punishment can also include a fine of up to $10,000. However, aggravated sexual assault is an exception to these sentencing guidelines, with the addition of a 25-year minimum for the victim having been < 6, or < 14 and the felony contained threats of serious bodily harm or death, or the use of a deadly weapon.
One Felony Prior
For a defendant with a prior felony (but not state felony) conviction, the punishment is 15 – 99 years, or life in prison, with the possibility of an additional fine of up to $10,000. For offenders over 18 years old who are on trial for certain sexual assault offenses, if they have prior convictions of certain violent sexual offenses, they will face life in prison without parole.
Second Degree Felony
Second degree felonies include crimes such as aggravated assault, sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, and illegal possession of marijuana (50 – 2,000 lbs).
First-time offenders facing second degree felony charges receive 2 – 20 years in jail, along with in some cases a fine of up to $10,000.
One Felony Prior
A defendant facing a second degree felony charge who has previously been convicted of a felony (not a state jail felony) will be punished for a first degree felony.
Third Degree Felony
Third degree felony offenses are crimes such as stalking, deadly conduct with a firearm, intoxication assault, and possession of a firearm as a felon.
A first-time offender being tried for a third degree felony will face a sentence of 2 – 10 years in prison, and possibly a fine of up to $10,000.
One Felony Prior
Offenders on trial for a third degree felony conviction with one prior felony conviction (not a state jail felony) will face punishment for a second degree felony.
State Jail Felony
The punishments for state jail felonies can vary a lot depending on the offender’s criminal history, but they are still the lowest class of felonies in Texas. Examples of State Jail Felonies include DWI with a child passenger, forging a check, and possession of <1 gram of a controlled substance.
The punishment for a State Jail Felony starts a range of 180 days to 2 years, with an up to $10,000 fine. State Jail Felonies are unique in that offenders are not able to get early release through good behavior or any other way. See How to get a felony reduced to a misdemeanor in Texas for more on this. Prior offenses of varying natures means an offender can face a second or third degree punishment for their state jail felony conviction.
Habitual Offenders (all felonies)
If a defendant has had two separate previous felony convictions, the sentence for any felony regardless of degree (except for a state jail felony) that they face will be from 25 – 99 years, or at most, life imprisonment.
SPOLIN LAW WINS APPEAL IN COURT OF APPEAL.Published on April 22, 2021
Spolin Law achieved justice on another case just a few days ago when the firm’s attorneys successfully overturned a prior court decision denying their client the right to petition for post conviction relief.
In 2012, the client was allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of a local man, described as a child molester. The evidence indicates that if the client was even present, he certainly was not the one to pull the trigger. Nevertheless, the client was convicted of second degree murder (Penal Code 187) later that year and sentenced with an indeterminate term of 20 years to life in prison.
The passing of Senate Bill 1437 (SB 1437) in 2018, however, offered a sliver of hope for the defendant. This piece of legislation amended the “the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences doctrine, . . . to ensure that murder liability is not imposed on a person who is not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
In January of the next year, the client filed a petition for re-sentencing under SB 1437. However, his petition was rejected by the Superior Court. In November 2019, the court issued a 28-page written decision explaining its judgement. The lower court asserted that the client failed to satisfy his prima facie burden by failing to provide sufficient evidence to proceed with a hearing.
Defeated one again, the client reached out to the attorneys at Spolin Law. Aaron Spolin and Jeremy Cutcher were the primary attorneys involved in the appeal. In the lengthy Opening Brief and Reply Brief submitted by the firm, the attorneys argued that the court was wrong for deciding that the client failed to make a prima facie case and the court was also wrong for pre-judging the evidence without a hearing.
The California Court of Appeal sided with Spolin Law and the client, determining that the defendant did in fact meet his prima facie burden and that the Superior Court must conduct a hearing. (Please note that prior successful outcomes do not guarantee a similar result on a future case). Mr. Spolin, Mr. Cutcher, and the client himself are all excited for the upcoming hearing and is ready to fight for the justice that the client deserves.
To speak with Mr. Cutcher, Mr. Spolin, or any attorney at Spolin Law about your own case, call us at (866) 716-2805.
What are Mitigating Circumstances?Published on April 14, 2021
In criminal law, mitigating circumstances are factors that help to lessen the guilt of an offender and encourage the judge to be more lenient in their sentencing.
What are some examples of mitigating circumstances?
There are two types of criminal mitigation: positive mitigation and negative mitigation.
When using positive mitigation, attorneys try to paint a positive, more holistic picture of the defendant. To do so, they may speak of their devotion to family, hard work, or loyalty. This strategy uses the defendant’s positive traits to show that their illegal actions were completely out of character.
Negative mitigation on the other hand attempts to highlight any hardships or difficult circumstances that may have pushed the defendant to commit the crime. For instance, details about growing up in an abusive household or a history of mental illness are examples of mitigating circumstances that may be used to argue a lesser sentence.
Other common mitigating circumstances include:
- The defendant having no prior or significant criminal record
- The defendant playing a minor role in the crime
- The defendant recognizing the error of their ways
- The defendant making restitution to the victim of their crime
- The defendant acting out of necessity
- The defendant having a difficult personal history
- The defendant struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction
How can mitigating factors impact the outcome of a case?
When determining a felony or misdemeanor sentence, judges assess these mitigating factors as well as any aggravating circumstances that arise. In contrast to mitigating circumstances, aggravating circumstances increase the defendant’s culpability and encourage heavier punishments. Some examples include a lack of remorse, a leadership role in the crime, or history of criminal behavior.
If a case’s mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances, the judge is likely to be less aggressive in their ruling. Therefore, outlining the mitigating circumstances behind a crime can become a vital tool when facing severe criminal charges, and in some cases could even be the difference between life and death.
Spolin Law P.C.’s success rate is based on our strong desire to win each case we handle. Call us or reach out online to learn how we can handle your Criminal Appeal.
Eligible Offenses Under Prop 47Published on March 19, 2021
California Proposition 47 is the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative. In 2014, California voters approved lowering the charge and penalties for certain offenses and allowing individuals convicted of these crimes to petition the court to reclassify their convictions and resentence them.
If you are currently imprisoned for a Prop 47 offense that was originally a felony, it is best to talk with a lawyer about resentencing. Your original sentence for a felony could be significantly reduced. You may have also completed your sentence for an eligible offense, in which case an attorney can help with reclassification.
Spolin Law Firm, PC, assists individuals with resentencing and reclassification. Aaron Spolin is an award-winning California appeals attorney and former prosecutor. He will carefully review your case to determine if you are eligible and guide you through the court process. Reach out online or call (310) 424-5816 to set up a free consultation.
Prop 47 Reduced Several Felonies
Prop 47 lowered specific non-violent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, unless they had a prior violent or sex crime conviction. This helps individuals in two ways.
Misdemeanors carry lighter sentences than felonies and, in many situations, fewer collateral consequences. A felony record can be extremely damaging to someone’s future.
Prop 47 Eligible Offenses
The offenses included in Prop 47 are:
- Shoplifting: Less than $950 worth of merchandise
- Petty theft: Property worth less than $950
- Receiving stolen property: Less than $950’s worth
- Forgery: Value of forged instrument must be less than $950
- Fraud: Less than $950’s worth
- Writing a bad check/insufficient funds: Less than $950’s worth
- Simple drug possession: Personal use of controlled substances
Some of these were felonies or wobblers, which means the prosecution has discretion in charging it as a misdemeanor or felony. Now, they are misdemeanors every time.
If you were convicted before November 2014, talk with us about resentencing or reclassification.
Resentencing – Are You or a Loved One Serving Time?
People currently serving time in California prisons, on probation, or parole for a Prop 47 offense can ask the court to reduce their sentence to what it would be as a misdemeanor. You must file a petition with the court that entered the original judgment against you.
If you are eligible, the judge recalls your previous sentence and resentences you under the new misdemeanor offenses. However, the court can refuse to resentence you if it finds you pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
If you are resentenced, you will be given credit for time served. You are also subject to up to one year of parole. Therefore, you could be out of prison much sooner, even right away, if you served over a year.
If you are granted parole or probation, make sure to follow all the conditions. A probation or parole violation could send you back to court and then prison.
Reclassification – Did You Complete Your Sentence?
Have you completed your sentence for a past Prop 47 offense? If so, talk with a lawyer about getting your conviction reclassified as a misdemeanor.
The first step is making sure you are eligible. Your conviction has to be for one of the offenses listed above. You also cannot have certain other crimes on your record, such as rape, child molestation, murder, or identity theft. You are not eligible if you are a registered sex offender. Here is a full list of disqualifying convictions.
If attorney Aaron Spolin finds you are eligible, he will guide you through the paperwork and filing your petition in the court that handed down the original felony judgment. You also have to serve the district attorney’s office with the forms to show you are asking for a reclassification. If you are eligible, then the court must change the felony to a misdemeanor.
Deadline for Filing
The deadline for filing a resentencing and reclassification petition is Nov. 4, 2022, or a later date if you can show reasonable cause. Though you have about two years left to take advantage of these changes, there is no need to wait. Find out if you are eligible as soon as possible.
Let an Experienced Appeals Lawyer Help You
Resentencing and reclassification under Prop 47 are similar, but not the same thing. It is essential to have an attorney represent you throughout either process.
At Spolin Law Firm, PC, we will thoroughly review your circumstances, and if you are eligible, we will guide you through the process. Call us right away at (310) 424-5816 or use our online form to set up a consultation.