Legal Blog

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.

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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
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.

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