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 the 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 appeals 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.
“How It Feels To Be Set Free” — Lawyer Monthly Interviews Former Spolin Law ClientPublished on May 13, 2021
On April 30, 2021 Lawyer Monthly published a full-length interview with a former Spolin Law client whose case the firm had won. The interview provides an insight into the life of an inmate and the powerful impact winning a case for freedom can have in rekindling the dreams and hopes of an individual. The following is a transcript of that interview with the client’s name removed.
How It Feels To Be Set Free
Six months ago, Mr. C’s life was very different from what it is now. He was a state inmate serving a potential life sentence for a murder conviction. Now, thanks to the help from his lawyer, Aaron Spolin, and Mr. C’s own persistence, he is a free man. In this exclusive interview for Lawyer Monthly, he discusses how he dealt with prison life, the problems in the criminal justice system, and how it feels to finally be set free.
The Impact of Being Prosecuted and Sentenced
What was your reaction when you heard your original sentence of 39 years to life?
I felt nothing. I was 21 years old and had already been inside since I was 19. I don’t know, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel anything until I was locked up for 10 years, and then I started to feel like, “Oh wow, you’re locked up for life, bro.”
What effect did your imprisonment have on your family?
I’m just now seeing the effects of it. A lot of missed time, a lot of pain that I put them through. I couldn’t see my daughter. I lost a lot of family members while I was in prison. The most recent one was my uncle a few years ago.
I’m sorry to hear that. How did your fiancée T help you get through all this?
She’s my backbone, my everything. She’s the one that keeps me sane, keeps me going. She never gave up; the one that never lost hope. She came into my life and gave me that hope and gave me that push when I didn’t have it. I felt like it was over with.
Life in Prison
How would you describe your life and conditions in prison?
Well, I mean, I did what I had to do to survive.
How were the conditions? Were they acceptable for what they were? Do they need to be improved on?
Oh yeah, it needs to be improved on.
If you could become the warden for the day, what would you change?
A lot of the rules. A lot of the rules are double-edged swords and it doesn’t matter what you do, you lose no matter what. Even if you are in the right, it doesn’t matter as they try to make you lose.
Is there a specific time or instance that you’re thinking of?
Yes, they put a whole year on my sentence that the judge took off, but I ended up doing it, and they basically swept it under the rug like, “Hey, it was just a typo”, but I actually did the time, even though I proved to them I didn’t have to.
Did life in prison ever become “normal” for you?
Yes, for 15 years, that was my life. I grew up in there, so it was similar to how a teenager may grow up in the street, I grew up in prison. I learned things the same way you learn things out on the street — I was just in prison.
You mentioned that 15-year mark. Did something happen at that 15-year mark?
I went down to a lower level, and when I did…it was different, I’ll say that. It was unlike what I was used to. Once I got there, and I had seen how different it was, my outlook changed. At a higher level, you become a victim if you have feelings, but when I got to a lower level, it was different. I could have feelings. I could start living my life.
When you got to a lower level, did it seem like you could get released sooner?
Exactly. When I first got to a lower level, the first person I saw go home, I was confused and asked, “Where you goin’?”. They said, “I goin’ home.” I replied, “You goin’ home? People go home?” I had never actually seen anyone leave prison.
What are your main concerns and issues with the prison system?
The way they treat us, the food, the healthcare, the living… it’s filthy. People are willing to clean up, but at the same time, they don’t give you anything to do it with. Just like with Coronavirus, they don’t give you what you need to sanitise and that is why everyone caught it. It shows it’s falling apart. It is super cold in the winter and with no ventilation, it’s super hot in the summer.
Do you have suggestions for new programs that would help people integrate into society better after being released from prison?
One thing they don’t set us up for is the reality of easing back into ‘normal’ life; they try to set you up for jobs and reentry to your family, but they really don’t regard or let you know how it’s not as easy as you think it will be. After all those years, going home and trying to introduce yourself back into your family… Your family still sees you as the 19-year-old boy that went in. If I didn’t do a life skills class or any of the classes that prepared me for family issues, I would never have asked myself “What do I need to do to make this transition better? They may not understand it, so what can I do to help?”. But there’s some stuff they can’t teach you. Maybe someone who has been out and experienced it could come back and teach you. In there, everybody helps you out. If you need to eat, someone will help you eat. Out here, it’s more, “It’s not my mess, so why would I pick it up for?”
So, it’s more individualistic outside of prison?
Yes. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out here more so than it is in prison, which is the opposite of what most people may think. If you feel like you can do it and deal with the consequences, then that’s fine. A few years ago, I just started living my life like chess. I calculated every move, and that’s what keeps me out of trouble. If a move isn’t worth it, I’m not going to do it.
And you felt that was a view you accumulated while in prison?
I didn’t have that view before. When I was 19, I was spontaneous. If someone said, “Let’s go beat someone up”, without too much thought, I would say, “OK.”
That community feeling in prison — did that go for both the higher and lower levels? The feeling that everyone had everyone’s back.
Same all the way through. It may not be the same amount of respect on every level… the higher levels have more respect and more structure and that’s what I grew up on — the higher level structure. When I got to a lower level, it helped me detour from that life. I think everything worked according to God’s plan. It all fell into line.
What motivated you each day to keep fighting for your release even after 25 years of imprisonment?
My daughter. I saw her almost every weekend.
Life After Prison
Has prison changed you? How?
Yes, but not for the worse. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for prison.
How would you describe yourself now?
Generous, life of the party, always willing to help.
Do you see anything positive about your time in custody?
I ended up going to a prison ministry retreat that they call “Kairos”, and once I went there, I started seeing a different way of living, which I had known when I was younger but didn’t accept. But I finally tried it, and everything turned around after that. I did what I had to do to get out. I let the old me go. My goal was to give back instead of taking. That’s how I ended up getting an education. I became a tutor, I helped people get an education, helped them get their GED, helped people who were struggling with their life in prison get their lives together.
How did it feel to learn you won your case?
I didn’t know what to feel. My whole body was tensed up. Every muscle was tense. My body was in one big cramp. I didn’t know how to feel or what to think. I was just thinking, “Wow. Finally… Finally.”
Did you feel justice had been done despite your lengthy incarceration?
Of course, it wasn’t their fault. It was my fault. I put myself in that situation. Nobody else put me in that situation.
What was the first thing you did after being released from prison?
Two of my nieces, my oldest brother, and my oldest niece’s boyfriend came to pick me up, and the first thing they did was hand me the phone, as there were people already on the line wanting to talk to me. I was finally walking through the gate not to get on a bus and go to another prison, but walking through it to go home.
What were you most excited about with your newfound freedom?
Being able to see my mom and dad on the other side, without restrictions on contact and how long a visit is, or what food we have to eat. Also, being able to spend time with my daughter for the first time outside of prison. She was born after I went in. Some of the things that are tough to you, you don’t see them as being tough anymore. They just are what they are.
What were you most nervous about upon being released?
A lot of things. I think the most prominent thing I was probably worried about was people thinking that I was weird because of the things that I became used to, because I know the things I was accustomed to doing while I was in prison, is not normal in everyday life.
Do you have a specific example of that?
Mainly just how I’d been living. It is a different living style in prison than it is out here, especially in relation to respect levels and socialising. I felt more love in prison than I do on the streets. You have to be a family in prison. Everybody greets everyone with a “good morning” in prison. Out here if you do that, they swear up and down that something is wrong with you.
What were your job opportunities when released?
I had so many job opportunities. If people say there are no job opportunities when you get out of prison, it’s a lie. I worked one job for two weeks, but they were treating us badly, so I left. Two weeks later, I got another job that I’m still working now.
Is this a testament to your work ethic?
I learned when I was in prison. I took every class I could in order to prepare me for life upon my release. The Employment Prep class showed us how to find jobs outside of prison; they taught me parts and T helped me with the stuff I didn’t know. I also always had a job in prison. If they wouldn’t give me a job, I was going to find a job.
Did these jobs in prison help you find jobs on the outside?
Of course they did. Without that experience, I wouldn’t feel comfortable having an interview with somebody or anything like that. When I did my first practice interview, I was so nervous I was sweating.
Do you get value out of your work?
I love my job, even if, like most people, I don’t love going on some days. I try to do so much on my days off, and work just as hard on my workdays. I feel like work gets in the way sometimes, but I like making money and you know what they say: you work hard, you can play hard.
What would you tell the people who think you should still be in prison?
They are one step away from being in there themselves. Everyone has something that could cause them to be where I sat. You accuse somebody, that’s a life sentence. I have a best friend named L who has a life sentence because he hit somebody and kept going, not realising the extent of his actions, and he’s been in there for 22 years now. Everyone is a step away from being in that place if you don’t make the right choice. I made the wrong choice. I hung with the wrong person. Everyone is going to have that feeling that people shouldn’t get out. Somebody in there could save your life. People in prison change and teach other people in prison to change. Lots of people feel that those who go in there should never come out. A lot of those people call themselves Christians, but if you aren’t willing to forgive someone in prison, what kind of Christian are you?
How do you feel about the criminal justice system in California in general?
It’s screwed up, really screwed up. All you have to do is look at the population of the prison, where they grew up, where they lived, and then look at the justice system. Who are they locking up? You know they’re not locking up people who stole a billion dollars; they’re locking up someone who stole bread to feed his family, or somebody who stole because they couldn’t get a job because of their history. That’s the plus side for me is that they don’t see a record because I’ve been gone for over 20 years, but for someone who has been gone five or six years, they will see their history and won’t give them a job. They’ll simply say they’ve already hired this many felons this year.
Is it a numbers game to them?
Yes, they don’t want to hire too many ex-convicts. They don’t want their company full of felons, but that’s who they should hire, because they would never steal from you. After all, they don’t want to go back to prison.
When you referred to who they’re locking up, who were you referring to specifically?
Minorities. You don’t find someone in the upper or middle class — that’s 1 out of 100 people. They also then want to lock you up forever. A lot of people in there with life sentences are 60 to 70 years old and have been in there for 40 years. What are they going to do out there, when they are barely moving in prison! But that’s what they want. They want you decrepit. They hate to let you out when you still got youth in you. People have been clean for 20 years that are still in there, but if you go to the board they will just knock you down.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you were 19?
That life was easy then. Life was easier than I thought it was.
When you say life was easier, did you feel somewhat hopeless at 19? And is that what led you to commit crime?
At 19, I was trying to keep up with everyone else. I wanted the nice cars, the shoes, the clothes… but if I had known I could have gone and got a job and gotten money easier than the way I was getting it, I would have done it that way. I did not get my first job until after I was released.
What emotion did you experience most in prison?
What emotion have you experienced most since your release?
Joy, just joy. I wake up every morning looking forward to my day. What I can do, accomplish, learn…
If you wrote an autobiography about your life, what would it be called?
“Listen to What’s Been Said.”
C was represented by:
Spolin Law P.C.
11500 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 400
Los Angeles, CA 90064
To read the original article you can visit the Lawyer Monthly website.
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 filing 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’s 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 on 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 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 ranges from 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.