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.
What Crimes Fall Under The Three Strikes Law in CaliforniaPublished on March 8, 2021
California’s Three Strikes Law was originally established in 1994. Under this legislation, harsher punishments are given to defendants with prior felony convictions known as “strikes.”
What happens after your second strike?
As stipulated by the California Three Strikes Law, if a defendant is convicted of a new felony after having already suffered a prior strike conviction, they will be sentenced to twice the standard penalty for that crime. In addition, they will be statutorily ineligible for probation, and may be required to serve up to 80-85% of their sentence, as opposed to the usual 50% percent with good behavior, depending on the severity of the new offense
What happens after your third strike?
If a defendant is convicted of a serious or violent felony for a third time, the punishments only worsen. For third strike offenders, the state mandates a sentence of 25 years to life. In addition, they are ineligible for probation, and must complete their entire sentence unless they qualify for early nonviolent parole under Prop 57. See In re Edwards (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 1181,
What crimes fall under the Three Strikes Law?
Since its enactment in the 1990’s, there have been some amendments to the legislation. The passage of Proposition 36 in 2012 has redefined which types of cases apply to the Three Strikes Law. Under Proposition 36, to receive a third strike, the defendant must have committed a “serious or violent felony.”
Prior to the 2012 reforms, any felony, no matter how minor, might have triggered a third strike. Now, however, only major felony crimes like rape are punishable under the Three Strikes Law. Below is a list of other crimes that still qualify as third strikes underthe new legislation.
Examples of “violent” felonies:
- Murder or voluntary manslaughter,
- Oral copulation or sodomy by force,
- Assault with a deadly weapon, and
- Any felony involving a firearm
Examples of “serious” felonies:
- First-degree burglary,
- Grand theft involving a firearm, and
- Sale of cocaine, heroin, PCP or methamphetamine to a minor
Can courts remove strikes?
In certain cases, courts may choose to dismiss prior strikes. Once a defendant files what is called a Romero Motion, the judge assesses the circumstances of the case to determine if a dismissal is appropriate. When doing so, they look at the type of crime, how long ago the prior strikes happened, and the defendant’s criminal history.
Can a defendant appeal a Three Strikes sentence?
The recent revisions to the Three Strikes Law under Proposition 36 give those who were convicted of crimes no longer included in the legislation the chance to appeal their sentences. If their appeal is successful, the defendant may have a chance at an early or immediate release.
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 Writ of Habeas Corpus.
Governor’s Pardons in CaliforniaPublished on February 16, 2021
In California, Governor’s pardons are a type of post-conviction relief that the governor can grant to those convicted of a crime, but now demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated. A pardon relieves the individual of many, though not all, of the consequences and penalties that come with a criminal conviction.
Advantages of a California Governor’s pardon:
There are many benefits of receiving a governor’s pardon. These benefits include:
- The right to serve on a California jury
- Improved employment opportunities, including the right to work as a state parole officer or a county probation officer
- California firearm rights restored
- Relief from having to register as a sex offender (under PC 290)
- The right to apply for a state professional license
- The right to not have witness credibility impeached because of the conviction, and
- A defense to deportation for lawfully present immigrants
Who is eligible to receive a California Governor’s pardon?
In order for an individual to be eligible for a pardon, their crime has to have been convicted in California, as the Governor of California is unable to grant pardons for convictions from a different state or country, or for a federal proceeding or military offense. Individuals convicted in another state must apply for a pardon in that state, while federal and military convictions can only be pardoned by the president of the United States.
Following a satisfactory period of rehabilitation, almost anyone convicted of a crime in California can apply for a pardon. The length of this period of rehabilitation depends on the crime, and can range from anywhere from seven to ten years. This period begins when the applicant finishes parole or probation, during which the applicant must not get convicted of any serious crime. The applicant also must be able to show that they are deserving of the honor of a Governor’s pardon.
Two ways to apply for a pardon in California:
There are two ways to apply for a California Governor’s pardon. It can be done by either a Certificate of Rehabilitation or a Direct Pardon. The applicant must notify the district attorney of the county of the conviction that a pardon application has been submitted, regardless of which method they use to apply for the pardon.
Applying by a Certificate of Rehabilitation
Applicants eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR) can apply for a pardon by petitioning for and obtaining a COR from the superior court in their county. Once the petition for COR is granted, it automatically becomes an application for a pardon, which the court must send to the Governor’s office. After this, the applicant does not need to do anything else unless contacted by the Board of Parole Hearings or the Governor’s Office. There are some cases in which applicants are not eligible for a COR, as detailed here, but where the traditional pardon procedure can be used.
Applying by a Direct Request to the Governor
A traditional (direct) pardon is open to those not eligible for a Certificate of Rehabilitation, where the applicant submits an application directly to the Governor of California’s office. This application is available through http://www.gov.ca.gov. The Governor must have a majority of the California Supreme Court recommend a grant of clemency before being able to grant a pardon application to someone with two or more felony convictions. The Governor’s Office itself will send the pardon application and all other related documents to the California Supreme Court for review.
Spolin Law Client Walks Free Hours After DA George Gascon Dismisses Murder ChargesPublished on February 2, 2021
Yesterday a Spolin Law client tearfully reunited with his mother after a long period of imprisonment for a murder he did not commit. The dismissal was formally handed down by Judge Shellie Samuels of Department 112 in Van Nuys Courthouse.
The murder dismissal came about in great part because of the newly-elected District Attorney, George Gascon. Mr. Gascon had campaigned on a promise of criminal justice reform, and he has been quick to implement a series of “special directives” that show increased compassion for inmates and criminal defendants.
This case had already received significant media coverage for Judge Samuels’ earlier decision to reject the DA’s attempt to dismiss the gang enhancements. (See media coverage: Judge Opposes Gascon’s Reforms, Los Angeles Daily News, 12/17/20. Gascon Blacklists Judge for Policy Noncompliance, Fox 11 Los Angeles, 12/16/20). The judge eventually gave in on the dismissal of the gang enhancements and then, yesterday, agreed to dismiss the entire case.
The client owes a great deal to his mother, who was an absolute fighter and never gave up on him. She had retained Spolin Law for her son’s case and encouraged the firm’s aggressive practice of filing extensive legal motions in court.
As attorney Jeremy Cutcher pointed out: “I’ve never seen a mother so involved in her adult-son’s case. And in the end, she got what she was fighting for. It’s wonderful to see.”
To speak with Mr. Cutcher, Mr. Spolin, or any attorney at Spolin Law about your own case, call us at (866) 716-2805.
What is a Certificate of Rehabilitation?Published on December 14, 2020
A criminal record simply makes your life harder. It may prevent you from being hired, getting an apartment, obtaining a professional license, qualifying for government programs, and receiving student loans. Criminal records usually are publicly available and easily found.
There are some ways to improve your situation. If you are eligible, Spolin Law P.C. can assist you in obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation. It’s one of the few ways you can limit the harm caused by your criminal record in California, New York, or Texas. Call (310) 424-5816 or contact us online for a free consultation.
A Certificate of Rehabilitation Can Help You Get Your Life Back
A Certificate of Rehabilitation won’t expunge or seal your record, but it may be your best option if expungement or other post-conviction remedies aren’t available.
Under California law, it’s illegal for an employer with five or more employees to fail to hire someone because of their convictions if they have a certificate of rehabilitation. The certificate also functions as an automatic pardon application.
Under California law, the certificate is issued by a court and attests to your rehabilitation after a conviction. Texas and New York have their own versions. With this certificate, you can recover some of your legal rights. It should also be easier to find a job.
The process involves filling out a form, gathering evidence to support your application, and a court hearing. If you receive a certificate:
- Your civil rights are restored, except your 2nd Amendment rights concerning firearms
- You can’t be denied public licensing or employment (with some limits) due to your conviction
- Depending on the crime, you may no longer need to register as a sex offender
Do You Qualify for a Certificate of Rehabilitation?
The certificate won’t erase your felony conviction or seal the criminal record. If you served time in either state prison or county jail, you might qualify if you:
- Haven’t been re-incarcerated after your release
- Continuously lived in California for at least five years since your release. Some violent and sex-related crimes have longer waiting periods
- Have proof of your rehabilitation since your release
- Aren’t on probation for another felony
- Were convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison, another California state penal institution or agency, or
- Were convicted of a felony and sentenced to probation, and your conviction has been expunged, or
- Were convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense in Penal Code 290 (the Sex Offender Registration Act), and your conviction has been expunged
Proof of rehabilitation can be shown by:
- A record of consistent employment
- Getting drug, alcohol, or domestic abuse counseling
- Engaging in community events and affairs
- Volunteering for non-profit organizations
- Not having an arrest record
- Active involvement in your children’s lives
- Positive letters from employers, clergy, neighbors, community leaders, or volunteer agencies
After filing your application, a hearing is held. You or your attorney will make your case and evidence that you qualify for the certificate. If the court issues the certificate, it’s reviewed by the Board of Parole Hearings. It will later issue a recommendation as to whether the Governor should pardon you.
Take the Next Step. Contact Spolin Law P.C.
A Certificate of Rehabilitation can help get your life back after serving your sentence and successfully returning to society. To learn more about how you can obtain one or to get our help in the process, call Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
New LA District Attorney George Gascon Promises to Re-Open Thousands of Old CasesPublished on December 9, 2020
The new Los Angeles District Attorney, George Gascon, has promised to re-open thousands of old cases for California prison inmates with Los Angeles County convictions.
George Gascon defeated the prior District Attorney (Jackey Lacey) in the November election last month. He was sworn into office this past Monday, December 7th, 2020. Mr. Gascon then shocked the legal community by announcing a wide array of sweeping reforms and a retroactive application of most of these reforms.
“Retroactive” means that the many of the new changes will affect convictions in the past, whether they are from 25 years ago or from the day before Mr. Gascon took office.
This article was written by one of the criminal appeals lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. To find out more about how George Gascon’s election can affect your case, call our firm at (866) 716-2805.
TYPES OF CASES AFFECTED
The new policies issued by the Gascon administration are listed in a series of special directives that were published on December 7, 2020. They affect the following cases:
Cases with Sentence Enhancements
Special Directive 20-08 commands all prosecutors to abolish sentence enhancements (including gang enhancements, strikes, three-strike penalties).
Juveniles Tried in Adult Court
Special Directive 20-09 orders the abolition of the use of adult court for juveniles. Special Directive 20-14 also orders the re-opening and re-sentencing of “all cases where the defendant was a minor at the time of the offense.”
Writs of Habeas Corpus
Special Directive 20-10 stops the prior practice of automatically opposing all writs of habeas corpus. Now, the DA Habeas Unit “shall not simply oppose the petitioner’s claim” when the inmate’s claims are “supported by reasonably available evidence.”
Special Directive 20-13 completely changes the practices of the Conviction Integrity Unit so that the DA’s Office is tasked with helping prove the innocence of inmates where there are “avenues of investigation that have the potential to substantiate the applicant’s claim(s).”
Inmates with Overly-Long Sentences
As Mr. Gascon said himself: “the sentences we impose in this country, in this state, and in Los Angeles County are far too long…. [and I] campaigned on stopping the practice of imposing excessive sentences.” (Special Directive 20-14, 12/7/2020, page 2, italics added). Special Directive 20-14 orders the DA’s Office to allow a review of old sentences and use all available legal methods to fairly resentence inmates who received overly-long sentences.
HOW AN INMATE CAN BENEFIT
The election of George Gascon is great news for California inmates with Los Angeles County cases. However, not every inmate will benefit from the new DA’s changes. Here are some steps that may help you in winning a reduced sentence for yourself or a loved one.
Find a Skilled Appeals Lawyer
While Mr. Gascon is clearly an ally in reducing inmate sentences, he is limited by the laws that currently exist. Spolin Law P.C. handles post-conviction matters for clients throughout California and has experience reaching out to the DA’s Office through some of the legal methods described below.
Learn About New Laws AB 2942 / PC 1170d1
One way to get Mr. Gascon’s DA Office to reconsider a case is to apply under the new law AB 2942, which went into effect in 2019. AB 2942 allows each District Attorney’s Office in California to recommend resentencing for old convictions that occurred in that county. The law, written into the Penal Code, is one way to seek the new DA’s help in reducing an overly long sentence.
As one local attorney recently said, “It’s like the DA’s Office is now being run by a true-believer defense attorney.” Nonetheless, there are tens of thousands of unfair sentences that have been handed down in Los Angeles County over the last several decades. In order to benefit from these new policy changes, you will have to take some type of action so that your case gets noticed. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Speak to your lawyer (or find a lawyer) so that you can begin this process. The appeals lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. are available to review cases and make recommendations.
To speak with a criminal law attorney at Spolin Law P.C., call us at (866) 716-2805.
Attorney at Law Magazine Features Spolin Law P.C. in a Cover Story About the Firm’s Successes and Mission StatementPublished on December 9, 2020
The October 2020 New York edition of Attorney at Law Magazine profiled Spolin Law P.C. in a wide-ranging article about the firm’s successful advocacy and its mission statement of treating all clients with respect.
As the article notes, the firm’s fights to win its cases while also treating clients and family members with respect and dignity.
To learn more about Spolin Law and how its criminal appeals lawyers can help on your case, call us at (866) 716-2805.
What is a Wobbler Offense?Published on December 8, 2020
A wobbler offense, also called an “alternative felony/misdemeanor offense,” is a crime that can be charged or punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor in California. Usually the prosecutor decides whether to charge a wobbler as a felony or as a misdemeanor. In some cases judges will decide how to punish a wobbler offense. In addition, a defendant convicted of a wobbler felony may choose to file a petition with the court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor. In California there are hundreds of crimes that qualify as wobblers. These include sex crimes, domestic violence, and fraud crimes.
When can the wobbler offense be reduced to a misdemeanor?
There exist four times when a wobbler crime can be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor:
- When the prosecution first charges the offense;
- At a felony preliminary hearing when the defendant is held to answer;
- During sentencing; or
- If the defendant was not sentenced to prison, after the defendant has done California’s felony probation and filed a petition to reduce the charge.
How do prosecutors decide how to charge a crime?
California does not mandate how a prosecutor should charge a wobbler crime, it remains at the discretion of the prosecutor. In California prosecutors often follow the crime charging standards put out by the California District Attorneys Association. They suggest prosecutors look at the following factors to inform their decision:
- The defendant’s cooperation with law enforcement;
- The age of the defendant;
- The severity of the crime;
- The defendant’s criminal record;
- The chances of defendant continuing to commit crimes;
- If the defendant is eligible for probation;
- How strong the prosecution’s case is.
When do judges reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor?
Judges, like prosecutors, have the discretion to reduce wobblers to misdemeanors from Penal Code 17. The judge can make this choice at either:
- The preliminary hearing,
- The time of sentencing, or
- Following the defendant’s petition to reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor, for cases where the defendant was sentenced to and already completed California’s felony probation.
Judges are not bound by the prosecutor’s decision on how to charge the crime. If there are mitigating circumstances of the crime, judges are able to reduce a wobbler felony down to a misdemeanor. These mitigating circumstances are circumstances that argue in the favor of the judge being more lenient in sentencing. These mitigating factors include, among many others,
- The defendant not having any priors or an insignificant criminal record,
- The defendant played only a minor role in the crime
- The defendant’s acknowledgement of the wrongdoing and/or restitution to the victim early on in the criminal process
- The defendants earlier behavior on probation or parole was satisfactory.
How does one get a wobbler conviction expunged?
Expungement is a type of post-conviction relief in California that is available to most wobblers. For wobblers it does not matter if the charge ended up as a felony or as a misdemeanor conviction. Eligible defendants can petition for an expungement following a completed probation. If the court grants the expungement, the case is to be dismissed with no conviction. In addition, the defendant does not have to tell any employers in the future about the case. Those not eligible for expungement are people convicted of certain sex crimes involving children. Additionally, in order for the defendant to qualify they must also have not served time in California State Prison for their offense, or had served jail time in a state prison for a crime that would be now served in county jail following Proposition 47’s new legislation.
Contact Spolin Law for Help
If you have any questions about wobbler offenses, you can call Spolin Law PC at (866) 716-2805. We have offices in Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, and Manhattan, NY.