Client Celebrates Freedom with His Lawyers After Life Sentence Is Overturned

Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2020 at 10:00 am    

Earlier this week a Spolin Law client visited the firm’s office to celebrate his newfound freedom. After two years of work by the firm, the client’s life sentence was dismissed, and he was finally released shortly before the office meeting.

Spolin Boardroom Group Shot after Client's Life Sentence was Dismissed

The client and his family celebrated with Spolin Law attorneys and staff. Pictured, right to left, are Aaron Spolin (attorney), C.T. Jr. (client), Caitlin Dukes (attorney), Hemi Tann (case manager), C.T. Sr. (client’s father), Michael Alfi (firm mailroom manager), D.T. (mother), and T.A. (fiancé).

The client’s fiancé, father, and mother were present at the happy occasion. Spolin Law employees present also included attorney Aaron Spolin, attorney Caitlin Dukes, case manager Hemi Tann, and mailroom manager Michael Alfi.

The client had originally been convicted of murder because a person had died during the course of a robbery in which the client participated. However, the client had absolutely nothing to do with the death, did not want it to happen, and had been powerless to stop the unfortunate chain of events that eventually lead to the death. Notwithstanding this fact, the District Attorney’s Office had charged the client with murder. Based on changes in state law since the conviction, the judge agreed with the Spolin Law attorneys that the client’s murder conviction had to be dismissed, resulting in a re-sentencing that eliminated the life sentence.

Spolin Boardroom Group Shot after Client's Life Sentence was Dismissed

The client has his mother in one arm and his fiancé in another. The client’s father and other firm members are also pictured.

The firm had won the client’s case several month ago (see earlier link); however, the CDCR and prison facility had improperly kept the client in custody due to an inaccurate interpretation of the client’s time credits. Spolin Law attorney Caitlin Dukes repeatedly contacted the CDCR to resolve this issue and get the facility to actually release the client. The client is now considering a money-damages lawsuit for improper confinement during the extra months he spent in prison.

“It was beautiful to see their whole family together,” said Hemi Tann, who is a case manager at the firm. “I felt wonderful knowing that we had helped this family get their son back.”

The client has already been offered a job as an auto mechanic and hopes to begin work shortly. He will finally have a chance to make up for the years he lost and start his life over with his fiancé, who supported him throughout the process.

To discuss this case or any other appellate matter with a Spolin Law attorney, call us at (866) 716-2805.


How to Choose a Law Firm for a Criminal Appeal

Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2020 at 3:45 pm    

If you have been convicted of and sentenced for a crime, you have the right to appeal that conviction or sentence. Numerous complex rules set the time and manner in which you must file your appeal. You have a limited window to find a criminal appeals lawyer to take your case. With so many criminal law firms out there, how do you choose the one that can handle your particular case? Your appeal is one of the few ways to have your conviction or sentence overturned, so you have a lot at stake. Choosing the wrong firm may prevent a successful appeal.

Factors To Consider When Picking a Appeal Law Firm

Below are factors to consider in choosing the right law firm for you. No one factor is determinative, and the factors overlap in some instances. The list provides guidance in selecting the firm that can best represent you in a challenging appeal.

● Knowledge: are the attorneys at the firm knowledgeable of the area of law relating to your case? Some lawyers practice in many areas of the law, criminal law included. For simple criminal cases at the trial court level, hiring such a lawyer might make sense. For a criminal appeal, however, you want a firm that has in-depth knowledge of the procedural and substantive law related to criminal appeals. The timelines, rules, and standards of judicial review are significantly different for an appeal than for a trial. Look for a law firm whose attorneys are schooled in criminal appellate law to obtain the best representation.

● Experience: do the attorneys at the firm have experience in representing clients in your situation? Experience in criminal appeals is key to a successful outcome. Many excellent trial lawyers are available, and some do appeals. However, you want a law firm or an attorney who has significant experience specifically in appellate work. Such experience shows that the attorney or law firm knows what works and what doesn’t in a criminal appeal and helps to provide the most efficient, effective representation.

● Expertise: do the attorneys at the firm have the expertise to achieve success in criminal appeals? The next factor to consider is the firm’s success in appealing criminal convictions. All the knowledge and experience that an attorney may possess does not always equal success. You want an attorney or law firm whose strategies and arguments result in positive outcomes.

Such success may be reflected in an attorney’s status within the profession. Being a top lawyer in the field or being a speaker or leader in the criminal appeals area of law indicates an expertise that other attorneys or firms may not have. Attorneys are named top lawyers for a reason; their dedication to and success in criminal appeals mean that they provide extraordinary representation.

● Resources: does the firm have the resources to investigate, research, and pursue the appeal? A criminal appeals law firm, large or small, should have an arsenal of resources to investigate your case to maximize the likelihood of success on appeal.

Besides attorneys, look at whether the firm has paralegals, dedicated legal research personnel, and private investigators to handle your appeal. Many facets make up an appeal, and specialized personnel dedicated to handle those different facets help the attorneys to prepare a thorough, well-reasoned appeal that is supported by law and fact.

● Dedication: is the firm dedicated to your case, rather than treating you like just another case in a revolving door? If the law firm takes on every criminal appeal that comes through its doors, your case might fall through the cracks or be handled without the thorough, careful treatment that an appeal warrants. Hiring a firm that represents only select cases increases the firm’s focus on you and your case.

● Edge: does the firm have that “X Factor”? Look for a firm that has something unique to offer, something that gives it an edge over other firms and over the opposition. An attorney’s background can provide this factor. It may seem counterintuitive to select an attorney who was once a prosecutor, for example, but such an attorney would have valuable insight into the strategies of the other side on appeal. Being able to predict and undermine the opposition’s arguments on appeal increases the chances of success.

Contact Spolin Law for Help

With so much at stake, choosing an attorney for your appeal may seem overwhelming. The above factors may help you in selecting an attorney who can maximize your chance of success on appeal. As stated, no one factor is determinative; you want to consider all of them in making the crucial choice of an appellate attorney.

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


How to Appeal a Conviction Based on Jury Error?

Posted on Monday, September 7th, 2020 at 12:24 pm    

America’s jury system is a wonderful thing. In the interest of a fair trial, a group of your fellow citizens gather to decide whether or not you are guilty as charged. Theoretically, it’s one of the best ways to reach a just verdict in a court of law.

Theoretically…

That’s not to say that humans never make mistakes, and juries are no exception. Human error naturally extends to juries, as hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals can tell you.

But a jury conviction is not necessarily the end of your case. If you or a loved one have been wrongfully convicted because of jury error, let an experienced and accomplished appeal lawyer from Spolin Law, PC review the trial record and explain your options.

With our history of getting wrongful convictions overturned, uncovering jury mistakes, and securing the release for countless individuals, we have the knowledge and fierce commitment to helping help your case.

Call (310) 424-5816 today or contact us online for a free consultation.

How Are Juries Selected?

Different states have different means of selecting their jurors for trials. In California and Texas, for example, jury members may come from records provided by the DMV, or voter registration lists. Other states, like New York, may select jurors from income tax, unemployment or family assistance, or volunteer records.

Once the jury members are summoned to court, they are placed on panels for select trial juries.

How Should a Jury Decide on a Verdict?

Upon hearing the final arguments and receiving instructions from the judge, the jury members leave the courtroom to deliberate. Many states, including California, have a lead juror, or presiding juror, that heads the discussions, collects the jurors’ votes, and delivers the final verdict. The bailiff guards the jury room so that no one enters during deliberation.

Oftentimes, the court will provide the jurors with all possible verdicts in written form, so that the presiding juror only has to choose the correct verdict form after deliberation has ended.

In some cases, like those in federal court, the jury’s decision must be unanimous, with the exception of some civil cases.

The jurors may also be sequestered or secluded from all contact with other people, newspapers and news reports, if they cannot reach a unanimous verdict by the end of the day. However, the jury will usually be allowed to go home at night in most cases. The judge instructs jury members not to view or read reports of the case in the news, nor are they allowed to discuss the case outside of the jury room.

If the jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, it is referred to as a hung jury, which will lead to a mistrial. Since the case is not decided at this point, it may be tried again at a later date before an entirely new jury. Another option is for the prosecutor or plaintiff to drop the case, which removed the need for a retrial.

What Is Reversible Juror Error?

While everyone makes mistakes, what happens when the error is made during a jury trial with consequences as serious as a criminal conviction or incarceration.

If the jury’s error was so significant that it is considered a reversible error​, it could be grounds for appeal. The most common type of reversible jury error stems from poor jury instructions, but other possibilities include whether the evidence or testimonies were improperly introduced or there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction.

What’s the Next Step if You Suspect Juror Error?

It can be hard to identify when reversible juror error occurs, since deliberations happen behind closed doors and juries rely heavily on instructions for legal context. For instance, if the jury receives improper instructions, it’s highly unlikely they will reach a fair verdict.

If you or your trial attorney believe a reversible juror error occurred, it’s best to consult an experienced appeals attorney who can review the trial record, the judge’s instructions, and identify anything that may have resulted in an unfair result.

How Spolin Law, P.C. Can Assist You

At Spolin Law, P.C., we know how much damage a wrongful conviction from a jury’s error can inflict on someone’s life. But our understanding of how jury errors are made and what it takes to reverse these mistakes has exonerated many of our clients and helped them get their lives back.

Call us today at (310) 424-5816 or contact us online to learn more about how we can help you.


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.


Governor Publicly Announces Commutation of Sentence for Spolin Law Client

Posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 at 11:37 am    

California Governor Gavin Newsom has announced the commutation (reduction) of sentence for a Spolin Law client who was previously serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The decision was announced on June 26, 2020. A copy of the commutation, signed by Governor Newsom as well as Secretary of State Alex Padilla, was released to state and national media outlets shortly after the commutation.

James Heard Commutation

The Spolin Law client’s commutation was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary of State Alex Padilla

A commutation of sentence is a method that state governors can use to cut short a person’s sentence. It is often used when someone has received an overly harsh sentence or has shown rehabilitation during his or her time in prison. A governor’s commutation is similar to the more well-known governor’s pardon. While a pardon erases a criminal conviction completely, a commutation simply cuts short the person’s sentence. State governors can commute or pardon for state crimes; the President can commute or pardon for federal crimes.

Governor Newsom explained his decision to commute the client’s sentence by describing the client’s excellent behavior, educational program participation, various certificates, and other noteworthy aspects of the client’s life.

In his commutation announcement, Governor Newsom said the following:

In 1998, James Heard, shot his romantic rival, Christopher Chessmar. Mr. Heard then directed his crime partner to shoot Mr. Chessmar. His crime partner complied, killing Mr. Chessmar. On March 20, 2000, the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, sentenced Mr. Heard to life without the possibility of parole for murder.

Mr. Heard was 22 years old at the time of the crime and is now 44. He has been incarcerated for more than 21 years. He has expressed sincere remorse for killing Mr. Chessmar.

While serving a sentence with no hope of release, Mr. Heard devoted himself to self-improvement. Mr. Heard has maintained an exemplary disciplinary record while in prison. He has completed self-help programming and earned an associate degree and art certificates.

Prison staff, including work supervisors and correctional staff, have commended Mr. Heard for his generosity and artistic talents, as well as his interpersonal and leadership skills. Mr. Heard has lived in an honor dorm since 2004. He has donated his artwork to various charitable causes. Mr. Heard has also volunteered his time to crochet hats and scarves for charity.

Mr. Heard committed a serious crime that took the life of Mr. Chessmar. Since then, Mr. Heard has dedicated himself to his rehabilitation and becoming a productive citizen. I have carefully considered and weighed the evidence of his positive conduct in prison, the fact that he was a youthful offender, his long­term confinement, and his good prospects for successful community reentry. I have concluded that Mr. Heard merits the opportunity to make his case to the Board of Parole Hearings so it can determine whether he is suitable for parole.

This act of clemency for Mr. Heard does not minimize or forgive his conduct or the harm it caused. It does recognize the work he has done since to transform himself.

The client’s family was extremely happy to hear this good news.

To learn more about commutations and other types of post-conviction relief, call one of the Spolin Law attorneys at (866) 716-2805.


Supreme Court Sends Death Penalty Case Back for Reconsideration Of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim

Posted on Thursday, July 9th, 2020 at 8:00 am    

–But Skips Its Chance to Modify Prejudice Prong of Strickland

In a 5-3 per curiam decision, the United States Supreme Court stopped short of doing what the habeas corpus petitioner asked it to do: modify or overrule the prejudice prong of Strickland v. Washington (1984), 466 U.S. 668, in the review of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. However, a majority of the Court in Andrus v. Texas (2020), 590 U.S. ___, found that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ one-sentence dismissal of Andrus’s claim “without elaboration” was insufficient to support a determination that no prejudice occurred. It remanded the case for reconsideration of that issue.

Andrus was convicted of the murders of two people during a bungled carjacking. Trial counsel put on no defense during the guilt phase of the trial, opting instead to focus on the penalty phase. However, trial counsel failed to investigate the existence of mitigating evidence. He failed to present readily available evidence that Andrus’s mother was a drug addict, drug dealer, and prostitute who sold and used drugs around her children. She would disappear for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, on her drug binges. Andrus was often left with the responsibility to raise his siblings. His mother brought home abusive boyfriends who were in and out of Andrus’s life. At age 10 or 11, he was diagnosed with affective psychosis.

At age 16, Andrus confined in a Texas juvenile detention center for serving as lookout while his friends robbed a woman of her purse. He was put on high doses of psychotropic drugs and served long stints of solitary confinement. On multiple occasions, he self-harmed and threatened suicide. He was transferred to an adult facility and released at age 18. Not long after, he committed the murders of which he was convicted. In prison, Andrus attempted suicide.

None of the foregoing evidence was presented during the penalty phase of Andrus’s trial. In fact, trial counsel was unaware of the evidence because he did not investigate Andrus’s past and failed to interview witnesses who could have testified to those facts. The only witnesses that trial counsel did present actually bolstered the prosecution’s case that Andrus had a propensity for violence and was a threat to those around him. Andrus was sentenced to death.

After an unsuccessful direct appeal, Andrus filed a petition for habeas corpus in the trial court, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment right. After an eight-day hearing, at which the above evidence of Andrus’s past was introduced, the trial court concluded that trial counsel had been ineffective and that such ineffective representation prejudiced Andrus.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed. The court concluded that Andrus had failed to show, as he was required to do under Strickland, that counsel’s representation “fell below an objective standard of reasonableness” or that there was a “reasonable probability that the result [of the penalty phase of the trial] would have been different” had counsel’s performance not been deficient. Andrus petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.

In the Supreme Court, Andrus argued that the abbreviated analysis of Strickland by Texas courts in general and by the court in his case in particular resulted in the pro forma rejection of meritorious ineffective-assistance-of-counsel cases. He claimed that in cases such as his, where counsel’s trial performance was patently deficient, the “truncated, analytically unsound” application of the second prong of Strickland produces unjust results. The prejudice prong is so onerous, he claimed, that few courts find it satisfied, and he questioned how a criminal defendant could fail to obtain habeas relief when the adversarial system had so utterly failed.

Claiming that an abbreviated Strickland analysis that looks only at the evidence adduced at trial to determine prejudice is unjust and unconstitutional, Andrus argued that a court must compare the evidence from the trial with the evidence from the habeas corpus hearing to determine whether the defendant was prejudiced. The question is whether the new evidence adduced at the habeas corpus hearing would have affected the outcome of the trial, not whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the penalty imposed. Further, Andrus claimed that a reviewing court in a habeas corpus ineffective-assistance claim must assess how the deficit performance affected the fundamental fairness of the proceeding.

The Supreme Court did not bite on the opportunity to modify or overrule Strickland. Without addressing Andrus’s arguments on that score, the Court applied the Strickland test to his claim. It did, however, reject the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision dismissing the habeas corpus petition. Disagreeing with the Texas court, the Supreme Court held that the record clearly showed that counsel’s conduct fell below reasonably objective standards for representation.

Next, the Court stated that the Texas court “may have failed properly to engage with” the question of prejudice from that ineffective representation. The lower court “concluded without elaboration” that Andrus failed to meet the Strickland standard, but it should have considered “the totality of the mitigation evidence”—both that adduced at trial and that presented in the habeas hearing in the trial court. That evidence, the Supreme Court held, must be reweighed against the evidence in aggravation to determine whether a reasonable probability exists that Andrus would have received a different sentence. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ opinion was “unclear” as to whether it engaged in this analysis, and the Supreme Court remanded the case for further consideration of the prejudice issue.

While the Supreme Court did not modify or overrule the prejudice prong of Strickland, it did provide guidance on the evidence that must be considered in determining whether prejudice exists. Its rejection of the Texas court’s one-sentence dismissal of Andrus’s claim may signal that more is required of a court reviewing an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. The decision must show that the court “reweighed” all of the newly provided mitigating evidence against the aggravating evidence in determining prejudice. In addition to breathing life back into Andrus’s habeas corpus claim, the Supreme Court’s holding may shift the prejudice analysis away from a curt dismissal and toward a meaningful weighing of the evidence.


CA Senate Bill 1437: You May Qualify for Resentencing?

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 at 8:55 am    

In September 2018, the Governor of California signed legislation that reformed the state’s approach to accomplice liability in felony murder cases. Significantly, CA Senate Bill (SB) 1437 will have a retroactive effect.

Under SB 1437, people convicted under the old felony murder law can apply to have their sentences reduced. If you or a loved one has been convicted of murder for their role in a felony that resulted in someone’s death, it is likely that these reforms apply to you.

If you have questions about how CA SB 1437 might apply to your or a loved one’s case, call Spolin Law P.C. right away. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

California Changed the Old Felony Murder Law

Before CA SB 1437 went into effect, you could be convicted of felony murder if you committed, aided, or abetted to commit a felony, and any person died as a result. It would not matter if you did not actually kill the victim, or even if the death was accidental.

According to the new law, to convict you of felony murder, a prosecutor must demonstrate that you committed a felony, or aided or abetted a felony. Additionally, they will need to prove one of the following:

  • You killed a person
  • You aided or abetted the killing, which means proving your intent to kill
  • You were a major participant in the felony, and you acted with reckless indifference
  • Your actions caused the death of a peace officer who was exercising their duties

What’s Different Under the New Felony Murder Law?

The essential difference between the old law and the new law is that now, prosecutors have to prove your intent or state of mind – unless you actually killed someone, or the person who died was a peace officer. Previously, you could get convicted of felony murder as long as someone got killed in a felony that you were involved in. It didn’t matter what your state of mind was. Now, prosecutors may have to prove one of two kinds of state of mind:

Intent

The prosecutor may show that you intended for the victim to die in various ways. For example, a witness could testify that you told an accomplice “to get rid of him.” There may also be evidence that you provided the murder weapon to the killer shortly before the act.

Reckless Indifference

When proving recklessness, the prosecutor doesn’t need to show that you intended to kill. Instead, they need to show that you did not care if a death occurred. In this case, evidence that you were present and did nothing to stop a killing despite having some power to intervene may be enough to show reckless indifference.

Proving your “state of mind” adds an extra level of protection, which conforms to the general rule that someone can only get convicted for crimes that they intended to commit. The only time state of mind doesn’t matter is when an officer is killed, or you actually kill the victim. These aggravating circumstances make is so your state of mind doesn’t matter.

Convicted Under the Old Law? You May Qualify for Resentencing

CA SB 1437 makes you eligible for resentencing if all of the following applies:

  • You were prosecuted under the natural probable consequences theory. This means that you were charged with felony murder and did not directly kill the victim. Rather, the prosecutor argued that the victim’s death was the natural and probable result of the felony you committed.
  • You were convicted of first or second-degree murder. The conviction could have been entered after a guilty verdict from a jury, or a plea deal. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you were convicted after a trial or not.

Have Questions About CA SB 1437? Contact a Los Angeles Appeals Lawyer Now

If you think there is any chance that the above factors apply to your case or that of a loved one, you should speak to an experienced Southern California criminal appeals lawyer as soon as possible. You may be in a position to petition the court for a resentencing hearing.

This could result in receiving a lighter sentence or even your freedom. To find out more about sentencing options for felony murder, call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out online to schedule a free case evaluation.


What Is a Petition for Rehearing?

Posted on Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 at 2:12 pm    

After a case is appealed and the decision does not go in your favor, you may feel like you are out of options. However, there is a possible route that your attorney may explore: a petition for rehearing. This petition has strict time limits and requirements, so it is important to discuss it with your attorney as soon as your appeal decision comes through.

To learn more about all your criminal appeals options, contact Spolin Law at (310) 424-5816 now for a free consultation.

Understanding a Petition for Rehearing

After you file an appeal and your case goes to the appellate court, they pass down their decision. The petition for rehearing is a way to contest the appellate court’s decision.

This isn’t the time to try out a new defense angle or fight to have evidence analyzed in a different way. It is primarily used to resolve errors made by the appellate court during the appeal trial. It takes a careful and exhaustive legal review of the court’s decision to find useful flaws.

When is a Petition for Rehearing Appropriate?

When you discuss the outcome of your appeal with your appeals attorney, they will help you understand your options. If they recommend a petition for rehearing, it means that your case falls into one of a few categories.

Situations in which a petition for rehearing may be appropriate include:

  • If the court’s decision focused on an issue that was not included in your attorney’s briefs
  • If the court’s opinion ignores or omits an important fact or issue raised during the case
  • When a fact is misstated or misrepresented and influences the appellate court’s decision
  • A legal error is made
  • If there are concerns over due process

The Deadline for a Petition for Rehearing

A petition for rehearing in California must be filed within 15 days of the appellate court’s decision. This is a very tight deadline, which is why your attorney will explore and explain your options as soon as the original decision is handed down.

What Happens Next

Several things could happen after your attorney files a petition for rehearing. The court might deny the petition immediately with a written order. This is fairly common, as it is relatively uncommon for the court to realize they’ve made a mistake and reverse it.

If they deny your petition, they may still modify the original opinion to reflect the information presented.

The court may also agree that an error was made in their decision. They may issue a new decision reflecting the new information. They may also request additional briefs or oral arguments from your attorney for additional clarification. After receiving this information, they will pass down their new decision.

If the court does not respond to the petition before the original decision becomes final, the petition is considered to have been automatically denied.

Other Options After an Appeal

Your attorney may also recommend filing a review. This strategy is often used if your case poses a new legal question or issue. It is also helpful if there are constitutional violations in the original decision or handling of the case.

Once your options have been exhausted in the appellate process, you may be able to pursue a Supreme Court review.

Find Out How We Can Help With Your Appeal

Appealing a court decision can be complicated and time-consuming, which is why it is crucial to work with an attorney who focuses on criminal appeals in their practice.

At Spolin Law P.C., we fight appeals in state and federal courts. Get started now by calling us at (310) 424-5816 or reach out online. We will schedule a free consultation and explore your legal options.


Malcolm Alexander: Wrongful Conviction Vacated After 38 Years

Posted on Monday, April 13th, 2020 at 8:28 am    

Unfortunately, wrongful convictions occur in the United States quite often, and the process of vacating these false convictions can take many years. This was the case for Malcolm Alexander, who fell victim to an incorrect eyewitness identification, an incompetent defense attorney, and lost evidence.

In 1980 Malcolm Alexander was arrested and convicted for a rape he did not commit. The rape, which took place in 1979, was linked to Malcolm Alexander solely by eyewitness identification. The victim initially described the attacker as a 6ft tall male, but eventually, though somewhat uncertain, identified Alexander. The victim was attacked from behind and did not identify Malcolm Alexander until four months after the rape had occurred. Even then, the police incorrectly conducted the perpetrator line-ups and only regarded her identification as “tentative.”

This incorrect eyewitness fits a pattern in wrongful conviction cases. Eyewitness identification is the number one reason for wrongful convictions. Specifically, 71% of wrongful conviction cases are due to an incorrect eyewitness identification. In fact, in the legal profession, there is growing evidence against the accuracy of eyewitness identification; one in four is incorrect. (See criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin’s book, Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials, to read about this topic in greater depth).

While most humans believe they can recognize those that have caused them or others harm, the misidentification stems from a variety of factors. Some of the most crucial factors are: witnesses being under high levels of stress, witnesses tending to concentrate more on weapons than the identity of the perpetrator, police or prosecutors using suggestive tactics to sway witnesses while they are in the identification process, and more.

In the case of Malcolm Alexander, the witness was both in an extremely high stress situation as she underwent a rape, and did not have a good line of sight to the attacker — both of which could have led to the misidentification. In spite of the victims uncertain identification, the trial for Malcolm Alexander was quick. The lawyer defending Mr. Alexander did not point out any of the inconsistencies with the witness identification, nor promote another narrative of his innocence. In fact, the lawyer defending Malcolm Alexander did not present neither opening nor closing arguments on behalf of his client, nor did he call any witnesses to defend Mr. Alexander. The entire trial of Mr. Alexander lasted one day. In spite of the existence of DNA evidence, including pubic hairs and semen, neither attorney requested that DNA testing be completed. Malcolm Alexander was 21 years old, and the father of a two year old, who was then given life without parole.

Malcolm Alexander advocated for his innocence while he was in prison, and eventually, the Innocence Project picked up the case. Unfortunately, the innocence project faced many challenges. Most notably, the evidence from the case had been destroyed by the New Orleans Police Department. However, after a continuous push from the Innocence Project, the pubic hairs from the scene were recovered.

After 38 years in prison in Louisiana, Malcolm Alexander was exonerated, thanks to the evidence found by the attorneys working on his case. A sample of his pubic hair did not match the pubic hair left by the perpetrator at the crime scene. Malcolm Alexander was released from prison on January 30th, 2018.

Works Cited:

“ MALCOLM ALEXANDER.” Malcolm Alexander – National Registry of Exonerations, University of Michigan Law, 6 Feb. 2018, www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=5274.
“Eyewitness Identification Reform.” Innocence Project, www.innocenceproject.org/eyewitness-identification-reform/.
“Malcolm Alexander.” Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), 30 Jan. 2018, ip-no.org/what-we-do/free-innocent-prisoners/client-profiles/malcolm-alexander/.