Criminal Appeals: What’s Abuse of Discretion?

Posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2020 at 11:36 am    

When a case goes to trial, the court has some leeway in how they decide certain issues. If they fail to decide the matter in a legally valid way, this could be an abuse of its discretion and you may be able to get the court’s decision overturned.

A criminal appeal in California is challenging, as courts are generally very careful about their protocols. But mistakes happen, resulting in inappropriate evidence being admitted, overly harsh sentences, and wrongful convictions.

If you believe that a legal mistake led to your or a loved one’s current situation, you need an experienced appeals attorney with a history of success in the criminal appeal process. Let Spolin Law, P.C. review your case file, find any errors, and fight to have incorrect decisions reversed.

Start your appeal today. Call (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation with Spolin Law, P.C.

Appeals: Defining Discretion

Discretion is the flexibility given to the court or judge in your case to make decisions based on circumstances, legal precedent, and their own judgment. This is a fairly vague legal concept, but it usually covers very specific decisions made by judges in criminal cases.

When judges act outside the scope of their authority, base decisions on biased views, or misinterpret the law, it can be considered an abuse of discretion.

Some common examples of abuse of discretion are:

  • Not allowing a certain witness to testify
  • Showing bias toward the accused
  • Making flawed rulings on evidence that stifle one side’s rights
  • Influencing the jury to reach a certain verdict
  • Sentences that are far too harsh for the offense

When Abuse of Discretion Occurs

How do you know when abuse of discretion occurred?

This is a hard question to answer definitively since discretion is based on individual judgment. And like most appeals, proving that a legal error happened can be an uphill battle. However, the court does not have to prove that they were correct or fair in their judgment. Instead, you only have to establish that they abused their discretion.

For an appeal court to rule that a lower court abused its discretion, and subsequently denied you a fair trial, you must show that the judge’s decision was so obviously against the evidence and reason that it violated your right to a fair trial.

An appeal based on abuse of discretion can have several possible outcomes. If successful, the appeal court may reverse the trial court’s judgment. If you prove that an abuse of discretion occurred but not that it kept you from receiving a fair trial, the appeal court may comment on the error but not overturn the decision. In addition, if you fail to prove an abuse happened, the appeal court will uphold the trial court’s original decision.

Abuse of Discretion: Standard of Review

Standard of review refers to the grounds on which you request a review of your trial court decision. It is not enough to say that you disagree with the decision and ask for an appeal, nor is it enough to state that the trial was unfair or erroneous.

The appellate court is very limited in what it can look at in an appeal, which is why you and your attorney must choose the correct standard.

Other standards of review include the substantial evidence and de novo standards. Substantial evidence is when the trial court’s decision is not backed up by sufficient evidence. The de novo standard is appropriate when the issue stems from a legal issue, allowing the appellate court to evaluate the case as if the trial court had never ruled on it.

Contact Spolin Law for Help

The court is often slow to overturn decisions, and you have a demanding burden to prove an abuse of discretion occurred. But if you think there’s a chance that such an abuse happened in your case or that of a loved one, you should contact Spolin Law P.C. and speak to an experienced criminal appeals lawyer as soon as possible.

Working with an attorney with a background and history of success in appeals can give you clarity into your case and confidence in your argument. This could result in receiving a lighter sentence, a new trial, or even your freedom.

To find out more about appealing your case, call (310) 424-5816 or reach out online to schedule a free case evaluation.


What is the Substantial Evidence Standard?

Posted on Monday, August 24th, 2020 at 2:40 pm    

Are you interested in appealing your conviction? It’s best to talk with an experienced criminal appeals lawyer at Spolin Law, PC, right away. Our experienced attorneys will obtain and review your trial record, look for legal errors to support an appeal, and discuss your options.

During our review, we’ll apply various legal standards to the court record as we look for errors and opportunities to have your case reversed, reduces, or re-tried. One of the standards of review that might be relevant is the substantial evidence standard. It comes into play if there’s a question about whether the jury had enough evidence to convict you.

To learn more about appealing a criminal conviction or sentence, contact us online or call (310) 424-5816 to set up an initial consultation.

What Is the Substantial Evidence Standard?

The substantial evidence standard is one of the ways appellate courts review a case. Several standards of review exist at different levels. Courts use these standards to analyze certain legal issues consistently. Standards give judges guidelines for how to measure whether a legal error occurred.

When Do Courts Use the Substantial Evidence Standard?

An appeals court uses the substantial evidence standard when reviewing a factual decision made by a jury, like whether a defendant committed a crime. The appellate judges ask themselves whether there was enough evidence to support the jury’s finding. In other words, was there enough evidence for the jury to reach its conclusion, or did the jury’s verdict stretch beyond what the evidence supported?

What Does Substantial Evidence Mean?

Courts defined substantial evidence to mean there is more than a mere scintilla. Simply pu, there is such relevant evidence that a reasonable mind would accept it as adequate to support a conclusion. When an appellate court is deciding whether there was substantial evidence, they consider the whole trial record, including all witness testimony.

The Substantial Evidence Standard Respects the Jury

Different standards of review require varying amounts of regard to the lower courts. For example, the substantial evidence standard typically shows deference to the jury’s decision.

An appellate court assumes a trial jury, which heard the testimony and saw the evidence first hand, was in a better position to decide the verdict than it is. The judges will review the trial record with the verdict in the best possible light.

Appellate Judges Don’t Decide if the Jury Was Right

When appellate judges review a trial record for substantial evidence, they are looking at whether a reasonable judge or jury could have reached the relevant finding based on the facts present at trial. The judges aren’t deciding whether they would have come to the same conclusion. Another judge or jury might have reached a different, yet also reasonable conclusion.

What if the Substantial Evidence Standard Is Not Met?

If an appellate court finds there was not substantial evidence to reasonably support the jury’s decision, then this is a legal error it must correct. An appellate court will reverse a criminal conviction if, after reviewing all of the evidence in the most favorable light to the conviction, it still finds that a reasonable and rational fact-finder could not have found the necessary elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Talk with a Criminal Appeals Lawyer Today

If you believe there was, on the whole, not enough evidence to show you committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, talk with a criminal appeals attorney at Spolin Law, PC immediately. We tackle federal and state-level appeals regularly, and have a long history of reversals and sentence reductions . We will file a notice of appeal, obtain a trial transcript, submit an opening brief describing the legal or factual errors that took place, and prepare to fight for your freedom.

To schedule an initial consultation about an appeal, contact us online or call (310) 424-5816. We have offices in Los Angeles, CA, Austin, TX, and Manhattan, NY.


Coronavirus Claims the Life of Exoneree

Posted on Monday, August 24th, 2020 at 2:29 pm    

Coronavirus claims the life of exoneree, Richard Lapointe

In 1987, the mysterious death of 88-year-old Bernice Martin rattled the small city of Manchester, Connecticut. Martin was violently raped, stabbed, and strangled. Her apartment was then set to flames and the building burned to the ground with her inside.

Two years had passed, and the offender was still not identified. The Manchester police were frustrated with the little progress they had made and wanted nothing more than to solve the case. However, to do so, they needed someone to blame for the crimes and felt that Richard Lapointe fit their criteria.

Mr. Lapointe was a middle-aged, mentally disabled man, with a loose connection to the victim. The police called Lapointe in for questioning and after a grueling 9 ½ hour interrogation, Lapointe signed three written statements, falsely confessing to all crimes. He was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison.

However, many recognized the discrepancies in Lapointe’s case and rallied to his defense. Just months after Lapointe’s conviction, a group called Friends of Richard Lapointe was formed. His supporters believed he was unfairly targeted because of his disability and worked to advocate on his behalf. They eventually reached out to Centurion Ministries, an organization that fights wrongful convictions. A band of lawyers at Centurion felt for Lapointe and agreed to help challenge the court’s decision.

In court, his lawyers successfully proved that Lapointe was not given a fair trial nor an accurate verdict. They pointed out that the state suppressed important evidence that would likely have changed the outcome of the case. They also argued that Mr. Lapointe’s original trial counsel failed to provide proper assistance by neglecting to call important witnesses to testify and making no effort to dismiss Lapointe’s false confessions despite overwhelming evidence that showed inconsistency.

The legal team at Centurion Ministries stood by Lapointe for a total of 15 years, working tirelessly to prove his innocence. Finally, on October 2, 2015, his case was dismissed and after 26 years in prison, Lapointe was a free man once again.

Upon his release, Lapointe moved back in with his family until eventually being moved into a nursing home. It was during his time there that Lapointe contracted the novel coronavirus.

Sadly, after valiantly battling the virus for weeks, Richard Lapointe passed away on Tuesday, August 4, at the age of 74.

Sometimes the criminal justice system gets it wrong — more often than we would like to admit. But if Lapointe’s inspiring story has taught us anything, it’s that with the right attitude and a strong support system, we can stand up to the faulty system and fight for justice.

Our hearts go out to the friends and family of Richard. Although Mr. Lapointe is no longer with us, his unwavering resilience and courage will continue to be an inspiration for us all.


What Happens If You Are Arrested For Protesting?

Posted on Tuesday, August 11th, 2020 at 3:47 pm    

Can You Be Arrested While Protesting?


While your right to protest is protected under the first amendment, there are certain restrictions as to where and how you may do so. Failing to comply with these restrictions can result in an unwanted arrest.

There are many reasons you can be arrested while protesting. For instance, you may be arrested for protesting on private property or for disrupting car or pedestrian traffic with your assembly. Law enforcement officers may also break up any violent protests and can arrest protesters who are engaging in violence or property destruction. Violating an order to disperse or neglecting state/country curfews can also put you in handcuffs.

What happens after you have been arrested for protesting?
If you are arrested at a protest, you will be searched and transported to a local police station for processing. There you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. At that point, you can either decide to post your bail or remain in custody until your court hearing, during which your bail amount may be adjusted.

Your first court appearance is known as an arraignment and is expected to occur within 48 hours of your arrest. During your arraignment, you are informed of the charges that have been filed against you and you are asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, you will be sentenced right then, if you plead not guilty, you will go to trial. The court will then select a trial date and either set, modify, reinstate, or exonerate your bail.

If you chose to go to trial, you will have to return to court within a few weeks of your arraignment. You will plead your case to a judge and receive a final verdict.

What Are Some Common Punishments For Protesting?


Each case is different. While most offenders receive only minor penalties, certain crimes might warrant harsher and much larger punishments. Below is a list of common protest arrest charges and their respective penalties:

● Unlawful assembly: A majority of arrests made during protests are based on unlawful assembly. Unlawful assembly is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum 6-month jail sentence. Judges rarely assign 6-month sentences unless the circumstances require it.

● Trespassing: Protesters may also be arrested for protesting on private property. In California, trespassing can either be charged as an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony. Trespassing infractions carry only a small fine, while trespassing misdemeanors are punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a maximum $1000 fine. Trespassing felonies however call for a maximum 3-year jail sentence and a $2000 fine.

● Obstruction of pedestrian or vehicular traffic: If you are found guilty of blocking car or foot traffic with your protest, you may receive a fine of up to four $400 or maybe sentenced to up to 4 months in county jail.

If you were arrested while protesting and were unfairly convicted on any of these charges, you can always push to appeal the court’s decision. If you chose to do so, it is important that you chose a team of experienced and successful appeal lawyers to represent you. Call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out online to schedule a free case evaluation.