Fox 40 Covers Caitlin Dukes’ Promotion to Partner and Her Record of Case Wins, 2023Published on August 8, 2023
In July 2023, Fox 40 featured a story about attorney Caitlin Dukes’ record of wins throughout the last few years, as well as her recent promotion to partner. Contained in the article is a partial list of Ms. Dukes’ wins, which include cases where murder convictions were overturned and clients were released from custody.
The text of the article is copied below, and it can also be viewed on Fox 40’s website here.
Appeals Attorney Caitlin Dukes is Now Partner at Spolin & Dukes P.C.; She Brings a Record of Winning Difficult Cases
LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Appeals attorney and former prosecutor Caitlin Dukes has been promoted to the position of partner at Spolin & Dukes, P.C., formerly Spolin Law P.C.
She has a track record of winning difficult cases, including the twenty representative cases and rulings that are listed at the end of this press release. Her wins include overturning multiple murder convictions, winning contested court hearings, vacating lower court decisions, and—in one case—securing the immediate ordered release of an innocent client convicted of murder who had been fighting his case for 15 years.
Ms. Dukes, along with one other attorney, Jeremy Cutcher, won the firm’s Legal Service Award in 2022 for displaying exceptional care and consideration and for going above and beyond in their duties. Ms. Dukes was also selected by Super Lawyers® for the prestigious 2023 Rising Star award.
“A lawyer’s role goes beyond fighting the case,” noted attorney Aaron Spolin, another partner at the firm. “Caitlin has shown incredible compassion for our clients, demystifying the process and helping clients’ families understand her strategies and the tactical steps that she wants to take on a given case.”
Ms. Tran is the wife of a former client; Ms. Dukes overturned Ms. Tran’s husband’s murder conviction in 2020. “I was so glad to have Caitlin in court,” Ms. Tran said. “The prosecutor was trying to say my husband should stay in prison for life because he was some reckless killer, but Caitlin wouldn’t stand for any of that. She is a no-nonsense type of person. I owe Caitlin and Aaron a lot for winning the case.”
Ms. Dukes responded to the promotion with grace and a clear eagerness to continue her hard work.
“Everyone deserves a fighter. Everyone deserves compassion. When I first talk on the phone with my clients, I hear the sadness in their voices,” Ms. Dukes observed. “Many of them feel like a bug that’s been stepped on by our monstrous criminal justice system. My job is to lift them up. Some cases we win and some we lose, but I demand that my clients be taken seriously.”
Below is a partial list of cases in which Ms. Dukes has helped the firm achieve favorable outcomes, including ones where murder convictions were overturned, resulting in the clients’ release. It should be noted that prior success does not guarantee future success.
Caitlin Dukes and the firm’s case managers can be reached at (310) 494-2724.
An Incredible Start: Spolin Law Wins More Cases in First Half of 2023 Than in All of 2022Published on April 25, 2023
The following is a partial list of firm wins only from the first half of 2023. It is not a full list and does not include earlier or later years. It includes in-court advocacy, out-of-court advocacy, and the delivery of legal advice. These successful outcomes do not guarantee success on a future case.
To discuss how Spolin Law P.C. may be able to help with your (or your loved one’s) case, please call (866) 716-2805.
From Anders/Wende Brief to Freedom: Spolin Law Fights and Wins Case Previously Labeled as HopelessPublished on April 6, 2023
After Spolin Law attorneys filed a petition to vacate a client’s voluntary manslaughter conviction and resentence him in the San Diego Superior Court, the District Attorney was forced to agree that the client deserved to be released.
In 2019, prior to enlisting the help of Spolin Law attorneys, the client filed a resentencing petition under law SB 1437. The Superior Court initially denied the petition, and the client immediately appealed. On appeal, the client was given a court-appointed attorney. However, five months after the appeal began, the court-appointed attorney filed a Wende brief, essentially stating that the client’s case had no arguable issues. (An Anders/Wende brief is a written appellate filing where a lawyer tells the court that he or she cannot find any non-frivolous issues to argue). Shortly after the Wende brief filing, the Court of Appeal denied the appeal.
The client then hired Spolin Law to review his case. Using a recently passed law, Senate Bill 775, the attorneys argued that the expansion of SB 1437 entitled the client to have his voluntary manslaughter conviction vacated.
In May 2022, Spolin Law attorneys filed their petition citing the new law as well as the client’s conduct during the course of the alleged crime. Facing a practically untenable position, the District Attorney conceded that the client was eligible for a hearing to determine whether or not he was entitled to such relief.
Ultimately, after an agreed-upon stipulation negotiated by the firm’s attorneys and the District Attorney, the client was resentenced to “time served” (17 years, down from 28 years originally), in February of this year, and the client was released from custody in March.
“I am so glad that we were able to get this client the justice he deserved,” said Caitlin Dukes, one of Spolin Law’s attorneys who worked on the case. “He had been fighting his case for years, receiving denial after denial, but he never gave up, and his determination paid off.”
“This is yet another example of how you can lose many battles but still win the war eventually,” explained attorney Aaron Spolin, who worked on this case. “After the client’s old lawyer had filed the Wende brief, it had been very disheartening for him. But we benefited tremendously from the new law, and I think that he [the client] was just happy with the final outcome, no matter how zig-zaggy a road it was.”
For more questions about this or other similar cases, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (866) 716-2805. Firm notes that prior success does not guarantee future success.
Coverage of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Ruling for Spolin Law P.C. Client, 2022Published on February 14, 2023
In July 2022, Cision by PR Newswire published an article regarding a major decision in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals about the legality of plea deals. Spolin Law P.C. represented the defendant, whose conviction was overturned because his guilty plea was deemed invalid (case number PD-0593-20).
The text of the article is copied below, and it can also be viewed on Cision’s website here.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rules for Spolin Law Client; Attorney Aaron Spolin Explains How They Won
AUSTIN, Texas, July 26, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently announced a major decision about the legality of plea deals. Specifically, the Court overturned a conviction that had been based on a plea deal where the defendant had not fully understood the deal to which he had plead.
The defendant, a Texas prison inmate, was represented by appeals attorney Aaron Spolin of Spolin Law P.C.
“First we lost and then we won,” described Mr. Spolin. “Our client had initially appealed to the Court of Appeals, which denied the appeal. But I knew we were right, so we didn’t give up.” The appeal was only successful when the firm brought the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the state’s highest criminal court.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is part of the Texas Supreme Court. Because it is the state’s highest court on criminal law topics, the prosecutor will be unable to appeal to any other court. Therefore, the plea deal is permanently overturned.
Winning a case in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is extremely rare. One reason is because of the court’s selectivity. While attorneys file thousands of petitions with the court every year, the Court only chooses to formally review a small number of them. Additionally, even if a case is selected, it is not common for a state inmate to overturn a guilty plea.
“Courts usually say: if you plead guilty then that means you did the crime,” Mr. Spolin noted. “The problem with that argument is that sometimes a defendant might not even know what he is pleading to or he may have been pressured to accept a deal even if he is innocent, all in an attempt to just ‘get it over with’ or because his lawyer told him to accept the deal.”
For this recent win, Spolin Law argued that the client’s guilty plea was invalid for three reasons. First, it was not made in open court. The state rules regarding plea deals establish that the plea must be made on the record in court and cannot be solely through a written form. The second argument was that the client did not fully understand what rights he was giving up when he pled, especially his right to a jury trial. And the third argument was that the change of plea would not “prejudice” the prosecutor or unduly interfere with the court.
These arguments are primarily based on Constitutional law, which requires that any plea deal be “express, intelligent, and voluntary.” Essentially this means that a defendant has to understand the plea itself and understand the rights that he or she is giving up. The “voluntary” element also requires that the defendant be acting of his own free will and not compelled to accept the plea.
The attorneys at Spolin Law had reviewed the record in detail in order to find the three arguments to raise. This proved crucial, as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ended up granting the appeal only based on one of the three arguments. As Judge Kevin Yeary noted in the Court’s September 22nd published decision: “We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in forcing Appellant to submit to a bench trial. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals’ judgment and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
“We found all the errors, and I’m glad we did,” noted Hemi Tann, the assigned Case Manager at Spolin Law. Ms. Tann had helped to coordinate the lawyers, researchers, and other staff who had worked on the case. “Sometimes an appeals firm will get excited when they find a rights violation that can form the basis for an appeal. But in my mind, you need to find literally everything because you never know what the judges will be swayed by.”
Ms. Tann was also in close contact with the client’s family after the firm had won the appeal. “They were beyond happy,” as Ms. Tann recalled. “It had been a long road to get to this point, including first losing in the district court and then the appellate court before the Supreme Court win. I’m glad to have been a part of something so meaningful in their lives.”
The Benefits of Choosing a Large Appellate Law FirmPublished on January 16, 2023
When you engage a criminal appeals law firm, you should ask yourself, “What size appellate firm should I choose?” You get only one shot at a direct appeal from a judgment that affects your freedom and your future, so choosing wisely is critical. As shown below, selecting a large appellate firm over a small or “boutique” law firm has many advantages.
- Advantage 1: Experience, experience, experience.
- Advantage 2: Been there, done that.
- Advantage 3: Reputation.
- Advantage 4: No need to “reinvent the wheel.”
- Advantage 5: Additional Staff.
Advantage 1: Experience, experience, experience.
When you hire a large law firm, you get not just one attorney’s experience; you get the sum total of experience of all of the attorneys. More experience means better representation since each lawyer has honed his own skills and can also benefit from the skills of the other attorneys. Because each attorney brings different experiences from criminal appeals practice, and because of the sheer number of cases a large law firm manages, the firm knows how to handle just about any issue that arises.
Spolin Law has attorneys who were former prosecutors and attorneys who are lifelong defense advocates. This means that the ex-prosecutors have special insight into the likely strategy of the state in an appeal, while the defense attorneys have vast insight into what makes for a winning appeal, Some of the attorneys also formerly worked for judges, giving them the added knowledge of how judges think and decide cases. This breadth of experience helps a large firm succeed where other, smaller firms might flounder.
Advantage 2: Been there, done that.
With a large law firm and many attorneys pooling their knowledge and experience, there are few if any issues that the firm has not seen before, giving it the advantage of knowing how to successfully argue such an issue. This increases the chances of winning an appeal and reduces the research and leg work that an attorney must do before proceeding. Attorneys in large law firms know from each other what works and what doesn’t work on appeal, and they do not waste their time chasing tactics that won’t benefit you.
Advantage 3: Reputation.
A large law appellate firm handles many cases and will have a significant presence in the appellate courts and will be familiar with the courts and the judges who decide appeals. A firm’s favorable reputation among the judges and the courts transfers to each attorney in the firm, giving the attorney an advantage over other, lesser-known firms and lawyers. Lawyers in a firm build a reputation for the entire firm, so any attorney from the firm appearing before a judge will carry that good reputation. A reputation for outstanding work and success means that a court will give serious consideration the issues raised on appeal, giving an appeal greater likelihood of success.
Advantage 4: No need to “reinvent the wheel.”
Because of the number of cases a large appellate firm has tried, it has a database of applications for appeal, briefs, motions, and other papers filed before a court. This means that an attorney at a large firm can draw from the database instead of starting from scratch on an important document. This is a more efficient way to operate, saving time and money. It also frees up time for the attorneys to strategize and find a winning approach to an appeal, increasing the chances of success.
Advantage 5: Additional Staff.
The success of any appeal depends on experienced, skillful attorneys as well as an outstanding staff that supports the attorneys. A large law firm like Spolin Law has such a staff of people, such as a dedicated research team to handle researching complex issues of law to find the most favorable cases to win an appeal. Paralegals perform additional research and draft documents for appeal.
Some people are afraid that large law firms are impersonal and that their cases may get lost with the many other cases the firm handles. However, Spolin Law has case managers who provide client support and communication so every client has assistance with his or her case. You are not left wondering what is happening with your case or feeling disconnected from the firm. Your appeal does not fall through the cracks.
The factors listed above show the many ways that a large law firm gives you advantages that a small firm cannot. Experience, reputation, and support give a large law firm the ability to focus your case and provide the best representation to achieve your goals. As stated above, you get one shot at a direct appeal. Make it count with a large law firm that will provide expertise in handling your case.
Spolin Law Wins More Cases In 2022 than In Any Other YearPublished on January 3, 2023
Spolin Law P.C. has had a record-making year. In 2022, the firm won more cases than in any previous year, and wins over the last few years include overturning multiple murder convictions, winning character-based applications, benefiting from new laws, winning in the California Supreme Court, and even overturning a conviction on a guilty-plea case.
“We don’t win every case,” says Aaron Spolin, one of the criminal appeals attorneys at the firm. “But we try our absolute hardest, and I’d like to think that we have as high a win rate as any firm out there, perhaps the highest.”
“The clients whom we are best able to help are those who have faith in us and patience throughout what can be a long road.” He likes to cite the case of a former Wasco State Prison inmate who won his freedom with the firm’s help in 2020. “He is a writer and a poet who fought his case for 15 years! That’s a very long time, but 15 years is a lot better than life in prison.” The client is now a sought-after inspirational speaker.
In looking back at 2022’s successes, Mr. Spolin credits the hard-working and resourceful attorneys at the firm. “People hustle here; we want to win win win.”
One such hard-working attorney is Jeremy Cutcher, who was a recipient of the firm’s 2022 California Legal Service Award. Mr. Cutcher recently won a remand and resentencing on a very difficult case from Justice Cynthia Lie in the Sixth Appellate District (oral argument was on July 5, 2022). Mr. Cutcher has also gone above and beyond this past year by volunteering to train other employees on new aspects of the law, including trainings on federal writ deadlines, the major case People v. Christopher Strong, as well as a number of other topics.
“For our clients, their lives are on the line. How could I not go all-out?” asks Mr. Cutcher. “There’s a reason that the other lawyers here and I do what we do. Our clients often have no voice. They’ve been treated like garbage. It’s a great feeling to fight for someone’s freedom and, in the process, treat them as a human being whose life really matters.”
The following is a partial list of firm wins only from 2022. It is not a full list and does not include earlier or later years. It includes in-court advocacy, out-of-court advocacy, and the delivery of legal advice. These successful outcomes do not guarantee success on a future case.
To discuss how Spolin Law P.C. may be able to help with your (or your loved one’s) case, please call (866) 716-2805.
Felony Murder Client Released After Spending Decades in PrisonPublished on December 23, 2022
Spolin Law attorney Don Nguyen recently won a California P.C. 1170.95 petition under SB 1437 for a client who was convicted of robbery and murder but was not the actual killer. Upon resentencing, the court ordered the client to be released from prison.
The client was convicted of crimes associated with a shooting in 1994. Although he was 17, he faced charges in adult court. Now in his 40s, the client has spent most of his adult life in prison. He has made great strides to rehabilitate himself and gain an education what will enable him to contribute to society upon release.
This client qualified for resentencing under Senate Bill (SB) 1437, which was passed in 2018 to update P.C. 1170.95. This law limits who can be prosecuted for felony murder, which involves the killing of a victim while in the process of another felony offense. Under SB 1437, individuals who were not the actual killer or did not ai and abet the unlawful killing with malice may be granted resentencing relief.
While Spolin Law’s client did participate in a robbery in the 1990s, he was not armed, nor was he the shooter. He waited until all patrons left the building before entering it. He had no reason to believe anyone would be harmed in the process of the robbery. The felony murder that occurred was not his intent, nor is he guilty of aiding and abetting the actual killer with malice. In fact, he actively worked to limit the risk to patrons at the establishment.
“Our client was convicted of a crime that he did not commit. His actions to avoid harm to others were rightfully considered by the court when deciding whether resentencing was appropriate. Now our client will be released and return to his family,” said award-winning post-conviction attorney Aaron Spolin, who leads Spolin Law P.C.
Spolin Law drafted a P.C. 1170.95 petition pointing out all the arguments that were favorable to their client. The prosecution was tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the client was not available for resentencing. In the end, they could not, and the court granted the P.C. 1170.95 petition under SB 1437, which resulted in release of the client.
After more than 25 years in prison, Spolin Law’s client will now be released to return to his family.
To learn more about SB 1437 and P.C. 1170.95 petitions, you should reach out to the post-conviction attorneys or staff members at Spolin Law P.C. We handle state and federal criminal appeals and post-conviction matters. We will evaluate your case and help you understand your options. Call us today at (866) 716-2805.
Spolin Law Client Gets Sentence Reduced Through SB 1437 ReliefPublished on December 22, 2022
A Spolin Law P.C. client’s prison sentence was recently reduced to only four years after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and being sentenced to 16 years.
The client pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in a case where he admitted he “aided and abetted the unlawful killing of the victim without malice.” Since the client was not the actual killer and did not act with malice aforethought, he qualified for relief under Senate Bill (SB) 1437.
SB 1437 allows for resentencing consideration for inmates who were convicted of certain types of murder but were not the actual killer. They must not have acted with the intent to kill. They cannot have been a major participant in the crime or have acted with reckless indifference for human life. The client met all those requirements.
Spolin Law P.C. filed a strong application for SB 1437 relief, pointing out that there were many faults in the client’s case. For example, he was accused of being a gang member; however, the prosecution’s gang expert had never heard of the alleged gang and had never met the client personally. Thus, it was unlikely that the client acted purposefully for the benefit of this alleged gang.
Once the SB 1437 application was granted and the client’s sentence was to be reconsidered, attorney Don Nguyen began the complex task of negotiating with the prosecutor. The state often does not want to admit defeat, so it can be hard to get a lower sentence. However, attorney Nguyen was able to get a new plea offer of a lesser charge with a new sentence of four years.
“This case is a striking example of overreach by the prosecution and California prosecutors using gang membership to vicariously incarcerate other gang members who had no culpability in another gang member’s crime,” said award-winning post-conviction attorney Aaron Spolin, who leads Spolin Law.
Instead of sitting in prison for the next decade, this Spolin Law P.C. client will be released in 2025.
To speak with one of the attorneys or staff members at Spolin Law P.C. about SB 1437 or your case, please call us at (310) 409-4453. Our firm handles state and federal criminal appeals and post-conviction matters.
Family Didn’t Expect Anything; Instead, They Won Their Son’s FreedomPublished on December 14, 2022
This morning, members of the Spolin Law staff gave a tour of the office to a former client and his family. It was a surprising and exciting finale of a hard-fought criminal appeal. The client had been condemned to spend his life in prison; however, the firm won the client’s freedom earlier this year, on October 2, 2022.
Spolin Law successfully overturned the client’s murder conviction, resulting in the client’s release. The actual winning petition that the firm submitted, case PA013483, is viewable here.
The client had not intended to physically harm anyone, but due to the overly-broad manner that murder was defined in the law, he had been convicted of murder and was serving time in Centinela State Prison.
After over a year of litigation, Judge David Walgren of the San Fernando courthouse ruled in favor of the client. In doing so, he agreed with the arguments of Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin, Caitlin Dukes, and Don Nguyen, who represented the client through written submissions and in-court arguments.
In 1993, the client had been pressured into accepting a plea deal of 26-years-to-life. He anticipated serving his time and then getting released on parole. But in a cruel turn of events, the client was repeatedly denied parole, including in 2010, 2013, and 2020. A 26-year sentence seemed to transform into a lifetime residence at Centinela Prison.
In early 2021, the client’s family decided to make one last attempt to win their son’s freedom. As the client’s brother, Wilson, described it: “We never expected anything to come of it [the appeal]. We just hired the firm so we would not regret having tried nothing. I wanted to say to myself that we did everything we could.” So when Spolin Law actually won his brother’s freedom, it came as a complete surprise.
Standing in the firm’s busy mailroom on West Olympic Boulevard, Wilson spoke emotionally of the first few days after his brother was released: “Every day for those first three days I would wake up and see him in my house and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was in shock. I never thought anything would come of this.”
Spolin Law staff member Michael Alfi was present at the celebratory meeting. Mr. Alfi is the firm’s Mailroom Manager, and he described how he had remembered receiving mail from the client throughout the course of the representation. “You were a name on an envelope, on a letter. I knew you were a real person but all I personally saw was the mail you sent,” Mr. Alfi said. “Now it’s wonderful to actually meet you.”
The client now lives with his parents, taking care of them while preparing to apply for a job to rejoin the workforce.
For more questions about this or other similar cases, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (866) 716-2805.
Spolin & Dukes Attorneys to Give Holiday Gift of $1,000 to Five Current and Former ClientsPublished on December 1, 2022
***UPDATE: November 24, 2023: The below blog post is from last year, December 2022. However, law firm partners Aaron Spolin and Caitlin Dukes will be funding this year’s version of the holiday gift program, which will apply from November 27th, 2023 to December 31st, 2023. ***
In the spirit of the holidays, the lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. will be donating $1,000 to five of the firm’s current and former clients ($1,000 per client). These donations will go to the first five clients retaining the firm for an appeal during this holiday season.
“The holidays can be a hard time for inmates, especially those who are sitting in prison wrongfully convicted or who have families struggling to take the next step in fighting an unjust conviction,” said attorney Aaron Spolin. “Many current or former clients have opportunities to fight their case; we are hoping that these donations will help them achieve their goals.”
Another attorney echoed this sentiment: Jeremy Cutcher frequently finds himself on the phone with the firm’s California inmates. “This is a hard holiday season because of the economy, because of Covid, you name it. Helping people achieve hope and a positive outlook is crucial.”
The attorneys donating include, in alphabetical order, Jeremy Cutcher, Dan DeMaria, Caitlin Dukes, Annette Gifford, Don Nguyen, Angela Reaney, and Aaron Spolin. (All listed attorneys are admitted in at least one federal court, and some of the attorneys are admitted in various state courts where the firm practices.)
This donation will either come in the form of a credit on the client’s account (reducing legal fees) or a payment made directly to the client or person of the client’s choosing (for clients where no further legal fees are owed).
Further questions about the holiday gift program may be directed to the firm’s case managers, who can be reached at (310) 424-5816.