What Is a Case Review?Published on August 23, 2022
Many clients ask me about the case review. What is it? What does it involve? So, I thought I’d answer the four most common questions I get. What is the case review? That’s number one. Number two, what records are reviewed? Number three, how unique is each case review? And number four, is it necessary? Is it necessary before doing any appeal?
So, the first question is, what is a case review? Well, a case review is a review of a client’s case, to see what the issues are, what the possible avenues for appeal are. It’s in great part for me to get to know the person’s case so I can know what’s available. So that’s essentially what it is. It usually ends with a written report, but not always. So that’s what a case review is.
The second question is, what records are reviewed? Typically, I like to get as much as I can but usually, I can see very early which records will be relevant and I typically review the records that are relevant to the appeals options. For example, if someone was just convicted and just sentenced five days ago, then the transcripts from the court are going to be very, very important because the direct appeal is typically an option right after somebody is sentenced, after they are convicted. Whereas somebody who may have been convicted, let’s say 20 years ago, and they’ve tried all their normal appeals, and now they’re coming to me because a witness has recanted the testimony or there’s DNA evidence showing the person’s innocence or something that’s not really related to the transcripts, well then, I would review the other material. So, I review the material that’s relevant, not necessarily every document that was ever produced in a case.
The third question is, how unique is each case review? Each case review is unique. It shows what is available for that particular client, but there is also going to be material that might overlap with another client, for example, background material. If I’m explaining what is a certain type of appeal, what is a Writ of Habeas Corpus in this state, what is a direct appeal, I’ve had to the best of my ability formulated the best articulation of what that is, and that’s going to apply to multiple different people. But of course, then the application to a particular client; that would be unique. Another example might be, there could be multiple clients in similar circumstances who have the same general types of options available to them. For example, someone in a particular state out of a particular county who was convicted at a particular time, and their sentences craft in a certain way, they might have similarity to somebody else who has those exact same circumstances. But generally speaking, it is unique to that person. But also remember one other thing which is the case review is a little bit for the client, for them to know what’s available, but it’s also in great part for me to know about the person’s case. My goal for the case review is not just to share what’s available, but for me to become a little bit of a mini expert in the case. So, me reviewing the relevant records, reading about the case, communicating with the client, that helps me to get in a position where I can say, okay, I feel like I know, you know, level 1 on this case, ready to move on if that’s what the client would want.
The fourth question is, is a case review necessary? No, it’s not necessary. What I would do for a case review is what I would do when I would start any type of appeal anyway. I would get the relevant records, I would become familiar with the case, and that would help me to do whatever type of appeal is appropriate. So, the case review is usually a good first step, because I would be doing it anyway, doing some other appeal. And it’s also a good first step because sometimes an individual might think well, they’re really a great candidate for this new law, they’ve been hearing about it, they’re a great candidate for this thing the jailhouse lawyer has been talking about, but is that really true? So, I can do a review to tell a client, you know this might be a good option, this might not be a good option. I know you’ve come to me and you want to do XYZ type of appeal, but that’s not going to work. So, it’s helpful to do a review so I can share what is realistic, what actual options are. Some clients come to me and they say you know what, I know that I want this type of appeal, I know that I want, you know, a writ of habeas corpus, I was innocent, here is the evidence, and just, I don’t care about anything else. Fine, and I can do that. So, no, a case review is not necessary. I recommend it, but it’s definitely not necessary.
California Supreme Court Rules SB 1437 May Apply to Some “Special Circumstances” Murder CasesPublished on August 17, 2022
Senate Bill 1437 was passed in 2019 to allow individuals convicted of certain murder charges to get a reduced sentence. On August 8, 2022, the California Supreme Court decided in a case called People v. Christopher Strong that some special circumstance findings in murder cases do not automatically preclude defendants from resentencing relief under SB 1437.
Who Is Eligible for SB 1437 Relief?
You may be eligible for a reduced sentenced under SB 1437 if you were convicted of felony murder, special circumstances felony murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder. You can be eligible if you accepted a plea offer or were convicted by a jury.
The law applies retroactively to anyone who has already been sentenced as well as new cases, if the following apply:
- The defendant was not a substantial actor in the murder; and
- The defendant did not “act with reckless indifference to human life.”
Specifically, the defendant must have been convicted under the accomplice liability theory for felony murder or natural and probable consequence doctrine.
Originally, people who were convicted of “special circumstance” felony murder had petitions denied or stayed because of the special circumstances of their case. However, with the Strong case ruling, the California Supreme Court held that special circumstances do not automatically bar defendants from seeking SB 1437 relief to vacate a conviction and get resentenced to achieve a reduced sentence.
What Is Special Circumstance Felony Murder?
A felony murder is a homicide that occurs while the defendant was committing or attempting to commit a felony crime. The attempt or commission of the felony is often the special circumstance under which the killing occurs.
To be charged with special circumstances felony murder, the defendant does not have to have personally committed the felony. Aiding and abetting a felony or conspiracy to commit a felony may also be considered special circumstances. Intent to participate in committing the felony is enough to get a special circumstances felony murder conviction.
Special circumstance murder is often called “capital murder” as it can result in the death penalty. A person convicted of special circumstance murder may also be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
Factors Considered to Determine Eligibility for Resentencing
When determining if an individual is eligible for resentencing under SB 1437, the court will consider if the defendant was a substantial actor in the homicide or if they acted with reckless indifference to human life as described on California Pen. Code §190.2(d).
In the Strong case, the jury found true that Mr. Strong was a “major participant” who acted “with reckless indifference to human life.” However, the California Supreme Court found that this decision was made before clarifying guidance had been issued in two other cases: People v. Banks (2015) 61 Cal.4th 788 and People v. Clark (2016) 63 Cal.4th 522.
Those factors considered by the court include, but are not limited to the following:
- Role of in planning the crime that led to the deaths
- Role in supplying, using, or knowledge of lethal weapons
- Awareness of dangers posed by the nature of the crime
- Experience with or conduct of other participants
- Physical presence at the crime scene
- Opportunity to restrain or stop codefendants
- Aid provided to the victims
- Efforts to minimize risks of violence during the felony
- Duration of the felony
- Knowledge of likelihood of killing
Thus, even if you were found to be a major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life, you may now be eligible for relief under SB 1437 according to these new court rulings.
What Laws Did SB 1437 Change?
SB 1437 amended California Pen. Code §188 and §189 and created Pen. Code §1170.95. These laws define certain terms associated with murder charges and established who is eligible for resentencing under the new law.
Soon after SB 1437 was passed, the California Legislature passed SB 775, which expanded eligibility of resentencing to people who were convicted of manslaughter under the felony murder theory or natural and probable consequences doctrine as well as attempted murder under any theory in which malice is imputed solely based on participation in the crime.
How a Top SB 1437 Lawyer Can Help You
If you were convicted of special circumstances felony murder or another eligible offense, you should immediately contact Los Angeles criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin. As an award-winning defense attorney, he knows the law and can apply it to your case.
When you contact Spolin Law P.C., our appeals team will investigate your case and obtain your trial records. We will determine if you are eligible for SB 1437 relief and help you file a P.C.
1170.95 Petition to get your sentence reduced. This law applies retroactively, including to those that have already been sentenced.
Call our post-conviction and appeals law firm today at (310) 773-0881.
Fighting for a New Law, Spolin Law Lawyers Celebrate Another Win in State’s Highest CourtPublished on August 1, 2022
The Spolin Law attorneys and staff celebrated another major win for one of their clients. The California Supreme Court overturned a prior decision on the case, handing a meaningful victory to the firm’s client. All seven members of the California Supreme Court signed on to the decision.
The case revolved around a recent State Senate Bill, SB 775, which had modified the law regarding murder. The client was entitled to benefit under that bill, but the lower court (the California Court of Appeal) did not allow the client to benefit even though they issued their decision several months after the new law went into effect.
Attorneys Aaron Spolin, Caitlin Dukes, and Jeremy Cutcher had represented the client in the state’s highest court. They argued that, not only does he qualify under the new law, but he was also entitled to have his murder conviction overturned based solely on an old law (SB 1437) that had been passed several years earlier.
In short, the lawyers argued that the client actually had no intent to cause the death of another human being, despite having been convicted of murder. Furthermore, the client had not acted with “reckless indifference to human life,” which was an element of the legal standard.
The firm manager, Dionne Parker, quickly distributed the decision around to the firm’s employees when it arrived in the mail. And of course, the client and his family were informed of the great news and sent a copy of their own.
For further questions about this case or other criminal appeals cases across the country, call one of the firm’s attorneys at (866) 716-2805.