Legal Blog

Thousands of California Inmates Eligible to Seek Reduced Sentences Under SB 775, Signed by Governor Gavin Newsom Yesterday

Published on October 6, 2021

After spending months in the California state legislature, Senate Bill 775 was just signed into law yesterday, October 5th, 2021, by Governor Gavin Newsom. This revolutionary new bill will change the lives of hundreds of California inmates, resulting in many individuals leaving prison decades before they would otherwise be free.

California criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin explains this new law, how it will affect criminal cases, and how prison inmates can achieve their freedom if their cases fall under the law. Mr. Spolin’s extensive analysis has been published in video and article form, viewable here. The following information explains the history of the law and some details about its application.

What Is Senate Bill 775?

This bill, sponsored by District 13 senator Josh Becker, was introduced to the State Senate on February 19th, 2021, passed by the Senate on June 2nd, and passed by assembly on September 10th. Now, just leaving the Governor’s desk, this recently signed bill will serve justice to those wrongly convicted of a killing by expanding on the legal protections stipulated in Senate Bill 1437.

How Does SB 775 Expand on SB 1437?

Senate Bill 1437, passed in 2018, prohibited prosecutors from seeking first or second-degree murder sentences for a “felony murder” case in which the person on trial was “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.”

Senate Bill 1437, and now its counterpart Senate Bill 775, challenged the previously established “natural and probable consequences doctrine” under which someone’s malice was implied solely by their participation in the crime.

As these bills sought to highlight, such a concept had many flaws and fails to consider many very probable scenarios. As a result, those who may have participated in a crime, but were unaware of the killing and had no intent to inflict harm were put behind bars for murder in the first or second degree alongside the killer themself.

However, while Senate Bill 1437 was the first legislation to initially highlight this disparity in the criminal justice system, it did have some holes of its own that Senate Bill 775 hopes to fill and address; among the largest being the expansion of the Senate Bill 1437 protection to those convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder, not just murder.

Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 775, defendants in these situations would oftentimes plead guilty to a lesser charge than murder, like manslaughter, with hopes of a shorter sentence and a chance at a normal life once again. However, in doing so, these people cut themselves out of chance to receive the post-conviction relief offered solely to murder convicts under Senate Bill 1437. Additionally, individuals convicted of attempted murder paradoxically received a worse outcome than those convicted of murder.

Senate Bill 775 has changed that, now allowing those with attempted murder and manslaughter convictions to petition to have those crimes (and the corresponding sentences) removed. Having this relief granted is not guaranteed, however, as they and their lawyer will need to convince a judge that they were not a “major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”

How Spolin Law P.C. Will Use SB 775 To Benefit Clients

This update to California state legislation will have a grand and positive impact on the work done at Spolin Law P.C. With this extra layer of protection for those convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter, many individuals can now get the justice that was once awarded to felony murder cases.

To learn if you may be eligible for such post-conviction action or if you have any questions about SB 775, feel free to reach out to your award-winning legal team that is here to support you every step of the way. Call us at (310) 424-5816 to begin your petition for a sentence reduction.

Categories: Uncategorized

Spolin Law Client Wins New Trial for Client in Texas

Published on September 30, 2021
Spolin Law P.C. legal team

Spolin Law P.C. legal team.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently issued an opinion in favor of Spolin Law P.C.’s client who was wrongfully denied a jury trial.

In this 2016 case, the client waived his right to a trial by jury in anticipation of a negotiated plea agreement. That plea bargain was never completed, so the client attempted to withdraw the jury waiver multiple times. Instead, the trial court gave him a bench trial and he was found guilty and sentenced. The client contacted Spolin Law P.C. for help.

Spolin Law made arguments based in Constitutional and Texas law that the withdrawal requests of the client were valid, and he should have been given a jury trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas agreed with Spolin Law. As a result, the trial court decision has been reversed.

Background of the Case

The client was originally represented by appointed counsel who did not speak his first language, Spanish. That attorney negotiated a plea bargain with the prosecution. However, the attorney then filed a motion to withdraw from representing him and new counsel who did speak Spanish was appointed. Before the end of her representation, the client’s original counsel indicated that the client did not want the plea bargain and wanted to go to trial. A jury trial was set for July 10, 2017.

The next time the client appeared in court was June 29, 2017, with his new, Spanish-speaking counsel, for a hearing on a negotiated guilty plea. The client immediately expressed hesitation about waiving a jury. The court questioned him, and the defendant said, “…I didn’t know I would lose my right to—to have a jury.” He said his original, non-Spanish speaking, counsel didn’t tell him he would be giving up his right to a jury trial.

The trial court informed the client of the plea bargain being offered, and the client asked for a few days to consider his options. The State said the offer would expire at 5 p.m. that day. During the June 29th plea hearing, the prosecutor asked if they proceeded to trial, if it would be a bench trial or a jury trial. The court confirmed it would be before the court because of the waiver.

The client declined the State’s plea offer, and the case did not proceed to a jury trial as it was originally scheduled for July 10, 2017. Instead, it was rescheduled for a bench trial on August 7, 2017. In the meantime, the prosecution amended the indictment. Then, before the bench trial, the client asked to restore his case to the jury trial docket. The trial court did not rule on the motion prior to the bench trial. At the beginning of the bench trial on August 7, 2017, the client again requested the withdrawal of his waiver of a jury trial. The court denied and the bench trial commenced. Ultimately the trial court found the client guilty and assessed punishment.

Arguments Spolin Law Used to Appeal the Case

Upon appeal, Spolin Law argued the following points for the client:

  1. He did not validly waive his right to a jury trial in the first place.
  2. The trial court abused its discretion by failing to permit him to withdraw the waiver of his right to a jury trial.

These arguments are based on the facts of the case and required legal arguments established in Constitutional law and prior case decisions in Texas.

A defendant has an “absolute” right to a jury trial; however, it may be waived. According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a waiver must “be made in person by the defendant in writing in open court with the consent and approval of the court, and the attorney representing the state.” The Texas Appellate Court found that although the client had signed a document waiving his right to a jury trial, that waiver was not made in open court. Thus, the jury-trial waiver was not valid, and the trial court abused its discretion by failing to allow the client to withdraw his jury-trial waiver.

The Appellate Court further found that the defendant “certainly made his ambivalence about waiving a jury trial clear to the trial court at the very outset.” He made multiple requests for a jury trial on multiple occasions.

Outcome of the Case

On September 22, 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower court’s judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial consistent with the opinion. Spolin Law’s client will get his day in court before a jury of his peers.

Speak to a Texas Criminal Appeals Lawyer at Spolin Law P.C.

Spolin Law P.C. founder Aaron Spolin is a former prosecutor and a top-ranked criminal law attorney. He is an award-winning Texas criminal appeals attorney who is dedicated to fighting for the rights of his clients.

To speak with the legal team at Spolin Law P.C. about how the outcome of this case might affect your own case or any other criminal law matter, please call us at (866)-617-9620. The firm handles state and federal post-conviction matters.

Categories: Uncategorized

Spolin Law P.C. Awards 2021 Civil Rights & Criminal Law Scholarship Winner

Published on September 26, 2021

Spolin Law P.C. has the great pleasure of announcing the winner of our 2021 Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship. This year, we have chosen Yumei Duan to receive our $1,000 scholarship that goes toward tuition and other educational expenses.

Spolin Law P.C. developed this scholarship to aid in their goal to raise awareness of criminal and civil rights issues. This scholarship enables us to support students who are passionate about these principles and strive to implement them in their careers.

Ms. Duan showcased outstanding academic achievements and produced a compelling essay expressing the need to maintain the principles of the US Constitution. Ms. Duan urges that failing to do so diminishes the documents value and prevents us from realizing our constitutional rights.

Read Ms. Duan’s full essay here.

She is set to graduate from Sol Price School of USC in 2022 with her master’s degree. The Los Angeles criminal appeals attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. strive to encourage and support the next generation of civil rights leaders who are determined to safeguard the constitutional rights of US citizens.

We encourage students from different fields to apply.

Categories: Scholarship

A Guide to Understanding Your Case Status Updates

Published on September 26, 2021
Case Status Details What This Means Next Steps

Requested – extension of time

Granted – extension of time

Updates on requested extensions of time are important to pay attention to as they adhere to strict timelines.

“Requested – extension of time” does not impact when the extension starts. Once the update says “Granted,” your attorney will be notified.

The clock for the given number of days of the extension starts when the extension is granted.

Tentative Opinion memo

Tentative opinion memos are used as a way to streamline oral arguments by determining in advance if an oral argument is needed.

If the court finds the legal arguments and facts to have been adequately presented in the briefs and record, then a Tentative Opinion memo would be filed to indicate the majority of the justices on the appeals panel agree on a tentative opinion.

Some tentative opinion memos will indicate what to focus on in oral argument, while others might express that oral argument would not significantly impact the decisional process.

The judges may change their mind on the ruling following oral argument, but it is rare that they do.

After a Tentative Opinion memo, the next step in the appeals process is typically oral argument.

If the majority of the justices on the appeals panel agree on a tentative opinion, then you have a choice of what your next steps are:

1. Counsel may notify the court to waive oral argument. Failure to waive oral argument is deemed as waiving it as well.

2. Counsel can reconfirm their original decision to request oral argument.

2.a. In this case, each party’s oral argument is limited to 15 minutes. Due to the fact that the judges are already briefed on the case and have made a tentative opinion, you are not permitted to repeat the arguments stated in your brief.

Disputed Issue memo

A Disputed Issue memo is a type of Tentative Opinion memo where the majority of justices on the panel do not concur on the tentative opinion. In this case, the court’s ruling depends on an issue to be discussed in oral argument.

Disputed Issue memos give both parties notice about what is going to happen at oral argument, and what issues to focus on to speed up the process.

If your case is met with a non-majority panel, you will receive the memo containing the main issues that were disputed by the panel members.

For the next steps, you and your attorney should go over what the Disputed Issue memo says to focus on to prepare for oral argument.

Notice of appeal lodged/received

Here the Court of Appeals is acknowledging they received the notice form the superior court.

After receiving this notice, attorneys don’t always check in, as it’s not a duty, so be sure to do so.

This start to the appeals process sets off a cascade of events that your attorney should be aware of.

Oral argument waiver notice sent

Oral argument is the time to emphasize the key issues of the case and make sure the court understands what is most important in your case. This can also be a time to ask the judges if they have any questions you can answer for them.

Happens if the court sends you a notice to ask if you want an oral argument and you do not respond.

The court assumes you are waiving your oral argument.

If the notice given by the court does not ask explicitly if you want to participate in oral argument, you can notify the appellate court that you would like to waive oral argument.

Categories: Uncategorized

2021 Prison Poetry Contest Winners Announced!

Published on August 31, 2021

To Whom It May Concern,

I am happy to announce the winners of the 2021 Spolin Law Prison Poetry Contest.

We had over 700 submissions, so it was very difficult for our panel to determine the poems to honor. Of course, poetry is subjective, so a different group of judges could have selected a totally different set of poems.

Five judges (including lawyers, poetry professors, and a former inmate) voted for the poems they thought were the best. The single poem with the most votes in each prison was selected for the “Winner – Best in Prison” award, and the one poem with the most votes nationwide was selected for the “Winner – Best in Nation” award. I have attached a list of the “Best in Prison” and “Best in Nation” award recipients.

We are now accepting submissions for the 2022 Spolin Law Prison Poetry Contest (deadline of June 1, 2022)! Further information about the contest is viewable at spolinlaw.com/poetry.

Sincerely,

Aaron Spolin
Criminal Appeals and Writs Attorney

National Winner

($500 Prize and “Winner – Best in Nation” Certificate)

Gregory Truitt (#01701265)
Darrington Unit (State Prison)
Rosharon, Texas

Criminal Appeal

Caught up in a crime, that I didn’t commit;

Don’t count the days, just let them tick.

Reassigned to a unit, where there are drugs galore;

I don’t want drugs, not anymore.

In my thoughts, I’m very sad;

Grant my appeal, I’ll be glad.

My check-up began, the nurse read my file;

It was so long, it took him a while.

I looked up when he said, “you are lucky to be alive;”

I said, “really, I see parole in twenty-five.”

Now in church, talking about my sentence;

And how Christians built prisons for people’s penance.

Apprehended a Bible, taking more than a look;

The law-library has solutions, in a combination of books.

Love reading case-law, even though it is grueling;

The Judge said what, what was her ruling?

Another opined, “it’s better to let one thousand guilty go;

Than to incarcerate one innocent, and hand him a hoe.”

Persona non grata, tilling the ground by hand;

Slave to the State, no longer a man.

Pious opinion, by that Judge on a mission;

Justice is served, nope, nobody listened.

Every exoneration, takes many years;

Furious are those prosecutors, who shed no tears.

And yet they argue, “someone is guilty of the crime;

Therefore somebody, anybody, needs to do this time.”

Lastly, while cases are continuously overturned;

This story is finished, the lesson adjourned.

Contest Judges

  • Rodney Hollie (Former inmate)
  • Aaron Spolin (Attorney)
  • Dionne A. Parker (Attorney)
  • Brittany Means (Professor)
  • Adam Wright (Poet/Professor)

Rodney Hollie – Judge 1

Former inmate and former Spolin Law P.C. client

Rodney Hollie was wrongfully convicted of murder and served several years in prison before successfully overturning his conviction in 2020. He obtained his freedom in Superior Court on January 29, 2020, represented on that day by Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin and Caitlin Dukes. Mr. Hollie now gives lectures on wrongful convictions, life in prison, and the value of never giving up.

He had the following to say about the winning poem by Gregory Truitt:

“This poem reminds me of my time when I was serving my sentence. I found myself in the law library and the opinions that were from other inmates regarding my case. This [poem] was very relatable, and it gives you an insight into what an inmate goes through. No matter if you’re guilty or innocent, the prosecutors want someone to be found guilty for their own personal status.”

Aaron Spolin – Judge 2

Criminal appeals attorney and former prosecutor

Aaron Spolin handles criminal appeals, writs of habeas corpus, and other post-conviction matters throughout the country. He worked as an Assistant District Attorney before becoming an appeals lawyer. He has a Juris Doctorate degree from U.C. Berkeley School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University. He is also the author of Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials, which discusses the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.

Dionne Parker – Judge 3

Maryland attorney admitted to United States Supreme Court Bar

Dionne A. Parker is a Maryland attorney who is admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar. She is also an employee of Spolin Law P.C. who has graciously donated her time to assist the other judges in narrowing down the list of 700 poems. Ms. Parker has a Juris Doctorate degree from George Washington University Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) from Washington Adventist University, where she majored in English.

Ms. Parker had the following to say regarding the winning poem:

“This poem resonated with me because it depicts a deliberate and prolific problem in this country – the prison industrial complex and the way that so many people, particularly those that are black and brown, are treated whether or not they are actually guilty of the crime charged. I felt the author’s quiet outrage at being trapped in a system that says one thing (about justice) but does another in the interest of having “someone” pay for the crime. The observation that slavery never really ended, it just morphed into a different type of servitude and bondage was also very astute, and is a view shared by many in communities of color. Last, I experienced a deep sense of sadness seeing the writer’s lack of hope cloaked in veiled optimism with the line “every exoneration, takes many years.” There are so few exonerations that take so many decades longer to occur than they should, that they are a very rare occurrence indeed.”

Brittany Means – Judge 4

Professor of English and Literary Critic

Brittany Means is a former professor and literary critic. She taught English at the University of Iowa and served as a judge for the Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction, a contest run by the University of Iowa Press. She has won over a dozen literary awards and accolades in the field of creative writing and has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Ball State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa.

Adam Wright – Judge 5

Professional Poet and Humanities Professor

Adam Wright is a professor of humanities subjects, including creative writing, literature, English, rhetoric, and comparative religions. He is also a professional poet. He is currently serving as a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas. Mr. Wright has two Master of Fine Arts degrees, one from the University of North Texas and another from the University of Central Oklahoma, the latter of which is in creative writing and literature. He also has three Bachelor of Arts degrees, all from Oklahoma State University, in the subjects of English, history, and broadcast journalism.

All the judges were impressed with the level of literary skill demonstrated in the competition.

Top-Voted Poems at Each Prison1

($100 Prize and “Winner – Best in Prison” Certificate)

California

Avenal State Prison (ASP)
Kirk Donche (T37441)

California City Correctional Facility (CAC)
Anthony Herod (T98057)

California Correctional Institution (CCI)
Rollin Denem (V44249)

California Institution for Women (CIW)
Ahmana Jones (X36713)

California Men’s Colony (CMC)
Berry Denton (P96760)

California State Prison, Corcoran (COR)
Marquise Byrd (AG0882)

California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC)
Raymond Anglin (BE8886) (tie)
Eric Hawkins (AX3820) (tie)

California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC)
Domanic Brown (K87924) (tie)
Nathaniel Sapp (F14459) (tie)

California State Prison, Solano (SOL)
Shaylor Watson (E79573)

Calipatria State Prison (CAL)
Patrick Hernandez (V76823) (tie)
Michael Mauricio (AD9717) (tie)

California State Prison, Centinela (CEN)
Joel D. Robinson (T92090)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)
Vershonda Sneed (WF5363)

Correctional Training Facility (CTF)
Miguel Angel Vargas (F94177)

Folsom State Prison (FSP)
Danny Lewis (C39915)

High Desert State Prison (HDSP)
Robert A. Clark (BL2173)

Ironwood State Prison (ISP)
Donte Revels (BJ7076) (tie)
Sean E. Walker (AA0936) (tie)

Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP)
Tony Douglas Baga II (AA3798) (tie)
Davione Wiley (BF7896) (tie)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Men’s Central Jail
Rafael Martirosyan (E54812)

Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP)
David Brinson (J09563)

Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP)
Rodney Ross (P62462) (tie)
Daniel Saavedera (BL4928) (tie)

Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD)
Robert Snyder (AC9136)

Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP)
Edward Iturralde (BK0922) (tie)
Henderson Johnson (V02639) (tie)

San Joaquin County Jail
Juan Zazueta (000386389)

San Quentin State Prison (SQ)
Anthony Marzett (E68792)

Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (SATF-CSP, Corcoran)
Anthony McDaniel, Jr. (AE5936)

Wasco State Prison (WSP)
Jamie Avila (T25040)

New York

Downstate Correctional Facility
Sheldon Arnold (13A0519)

Eastern NY Correctional Facility
Peter Anakwe (99A2717)

Elmira Correctional Facility
Antonio Jones (96B1330)

Mid-State Correctional Facility
Vincent Carmona (14A0979)

Shawangunk Correctional Facility
Rogelio Ferrer (14A3515)

Southport Correctional Facility
Stanny Vargas (17A5213)

Texas

A.M. “Mac” Stringfellow Unit
William Venable (02058841)

Alfred D. Hughes Unit
Jose Ramos (02176043)

Allan B. Polunsky Unit
James Wibi Jackson (01841911)

Barry B. Telford Unit
Aguilar Gilberto Gonzalez (01998446)

Beauford H. Jester III Unit
George R. Lopez (01465634)

Beauford H. Jester IV Unit
Eliseo Ruiz Mendez (01929729)

C.T. Terrell Unit
Derrick B. Johnson (01622794)

Christina Melton Crain Unit
Shanetha Coleman (01798193)

Clarence N. Stevenson Unit
Shannon D. Marshall (01007893)

Clemens Unit
Edward Lawrence (02171629)

Dalhart Unit
Cleveland McDonald (02140873)

Daniel Webster Wallace Unit
Jamie Ash (02003564)

Darrington Unit
Aaron Ellis Osby (01957505)

Diboll Correctional Center
Curtis Collins (02159140)

Dolph Briscoe Unit
Gerry D. Williams (02062167)

Dr. Lane Murray Unit
Rebecca L. Dugas (02120794)

Eastham Unit
Hymon A. Walker (01014857)

Fort Stockton Unit
Alvino Ramos (02073005)

French Robertson Unit
Samuel Gonzalez Almazan (02121251)

George Beto Unit
Conrado Calderas III (01792384)

Gib Lewis Unit
Gonzalo Garcia (02057314)

H. H. Coffield Unit
Sammie Caston (02058587)

Huntsville Unit
Nicholas Keys (02155630)

James “Jay” H. Byrd Unit
James B. Jones (02075024)

James Lynaugh Unit
Alfredo Coleman (02123604)

James V. Allred Unit
Greg Fonseca (01878692)

Jerry H. Hodge Unit
John Porter (02061132)

Jim Ferguson Unit
Larry Holloway (01899560)

Joe Ney Unit
Moses Cervantes (01982996)

John B. Connally Unit
Marcus Leslie (02001223)

John M. Wynne Unit
Angelo Baker (01731727)

John Montford Unit
Donald Haynes (01857411)

L.V. Hightower Unit
Jeremiah A. Griffin (02150534)

Louis C. Powledge Unit
Steven Kurt Baughman (02180609)

Mark W. Michael Unit
Santos Antonio (01883380)

Mark W. Stiles Unit
Kendrick Hill (02019313)

Mountain View Unit
Frances R. Ford (01916749)

O.B. Ellis Unit
Cenca A. King (01064695)

O.L. Luther Unit
Jon Miranda (01943242)

Oliver J. Bell Unit
Jose Luis Martinez (02133456)

Pam Lychner State Jail
Alejandro Zarate (02055033)

Preston E. Smith Unit
Daniel Ray (02067338)

Price Daniel Unit
Larry Bennett (01988215)

Richard P. LeBlanc Unit
Kurt Ray Kaspar, Jr. (01888794)

Ruben M. Torres Unit
Matthew Shipp (02162052)

Rufe Jordan Unit
Cameron Brown (02165650)

T.L. Roach Unit
Dillon Bevel (01893403)

Thomas Goree Unit
Bradley Jason Jordan (01505327)

W. F. Ramsey Unit
Patrick Denton (02176324) (tie)
Pablo Zuniga (00856129) (tie)

W. J. “Jim” Estelle Unit
Ryan Drake (01917718)

Wallace Pack Unit
David Taylor (01972889)

Wayne Scott Unit
Grady C. Nelson II (01463325)

Willacy County State Jail
Arthur Hill (01917765)

William G. McConnell Unit
Marcus A. Francis (01661135)

William P. Clements Unit
James E. Schad (01865444)

William P. Hobby Unit
Wendy Howeris (02285689)

William R. Boyd Unit
Syrjuan Benson (01922473)

Federal

United States Penitentiary, Lee
Manuel Hernandez (44584-112)

1 Note: Winners are listed under the prison facility that they identified on their submission form if identified; therefore, some individuals may no longer be at the listed facility.

Categories: Uncategorized

Death Sentence of Texas’ Longest-Serving Death Row Inmate Overturned

Published on August 15, 2021
Lady Justice Holding Scales | Spolin Law

Lady Justice holding scales.

In Austin, TX on April 14th, 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death sentence of the state’s longest-serving death row inmate. Raymond Riles, now 70, was sent to death row 45 years ago following a conviction for murder and attempted robbery that took place in 1974. The court recently ruled that Riles’ death sentence “can no longer stand,” because the jurors in his trial were not instructed to properly consider his mental illness as a possible mitigating factor.

Raymond Riles has spent more than 45 years wrapped up in Texas’ criminal justice system, starting with his initial death sentence in 1976. Riles spent the next few decades on death row after numerous execution dates would be set and then canceled as he was repeatedly deemed too mentally incompetent to be executed. Thea Posel, one of Riles’ attorneys, noted, “the first time they found him incompetent was in 1987 and 1988 and he has never been restored.”

Riles’ 1976 conviction was overturned shortly after he was sentenced. Riles claimed an insanity defense at his retrial in 1978 and had a number of experts testify that he had schizophrenia with paranoid delusions and psychosis. Relatives also cited a family history of severe mental illness and testified about his own history of “odd and often violent behavior” that persisted throughout most of his life. Despite these well-supported claims, doctors for the prosecution argued that Riles was faking a mental illness. As a result, the jury rejected Riles’ insanity defense. When jurors were later deliberating the sentence, they were only to decide if the murder was deliberate and if Riles is likely to be a danger to society in the future, in accordance with Texas law at that time. Once again, the jury voted to convict Riles of capital murder in 1978.

Things changed in Texas in 1989 when it was ruled that death penalty juries are required to consider mitigating evidence, including a mental illness, that may influence juries to decide for a lesser punishment. In their ruling, the judges for Riles’ case explain that the evidence of mental illness that Riles presented at trial “is the type of evidence that both [the Court of Criminal Appeals] and the Supreme Court have come to regard as the kind of ‘two-edged’ mitigating evidence calling for a separate, mitigation focused jury instruction.” Since the jury in Riles’ trial did not receive this instruction, the Court said his death sentence can no longer stand.

Herbert Washington, Riles’ co-defendant, was also sentenced to death on related charges, but his death sentence was commuted in 1978 to 50 – 25 years after he pleaded guilty.

Riles’ case has now been sent back to Harris County, where it was originally tried, to again determine his punishment now with an informed and properly instructed jury. While the Harris County DA’s office supported tossing the death sentence, they have not yet shared whether or not the office would seek the death penalty again. Riles’ capital murder conviction remains unchanged.

Categories: Uncategorized

Client travels around the country visiting family after Spolin Law gets wrongful murder charges dismissed.

Published on June 22, 2021
Client Office Visit Story (Featured Image 1) | Spolin Law

Attorneys and staff from Spolin Law P.C. meet with a former client. His murder case was entirely dismissed this past February.

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.

Client Office Visit Story (Featured Image 2) | Spolin Law

The client says goodbye as he moves on to the next phase of his life. Pictured (left to right): Hemi Tann, Arlene Binder, Don Nguyen, Jeremy Cutcher, and client.

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Deadline

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.

Opening Brief

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.

Oral Arguments

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.

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Governor Grants Commutation for Yet Another Spolin Law Client

Published 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.

The first page of Governor Gavin Newsom's Commutation Order from this past Friday

Above Image The first page of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Commutation Order from this past Friday.

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.

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What Happens If You Lose an Appeal

Published 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.

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