Attorney at Law Magazine Features Spolin Law P.C. in a Cover Story About the Firm’s Successes and Mission StatementPublished on December 9, 2020
The October 2020 New York edition of Attorney at Law Magazine profiled Spolin Law P.C. in a wide-ranging article about the firm’s successful advocacy and its mission statement of treating all clients with respect.
As the article notes, the firm’s fights to win its cases while also treating clients and family members with respect and dignity.
To read the article, you can visit the Attorney at Law Magazine website or read the text of the article copied below:
October 2020 Issue, Attorney at Law Magazine.
Article text copied below:
Fighting for the Innocent
Mary Medina, the mother of a former Spolin Law client, will never forget September 27, 2017. That’s the day the California Supreme Court sided with her daughter after months of appellate advocacy by Aaron Spolin and his firm, Spolin Law P.C. The outcome saved Medina’s daughter from a potential life sentence in prison.
“Aaron and his team saved her life, God bless them,” Medina says. “My close friend had found out about the firm, and we’re so lucky to have found them.”
Medina is one of the many former clients and client family members whom Spolin Law has helped. As one of the nation’s leading criminal appeals law firms, Spolin Law handles post-conviction matters for clients in state and federal courts.
Spolin Law was founded by former prosecutor Aaron Spolin. Besides trying to win cases, the firm’s mission statement includes a goal of “treating every client with respect and dignity,” something that is often lacking in the criminal justice system.
“When I was a prosecutor, we never knew the people we were prosecuting,” Spolin says. “Each case was a faceless statistic, and we were driven by the idea that more time in prison equaled more ‘justice.’”
It was only when Spolin started defending the accused that “I saw how these were often good people trying hard to make it in the world. There are clients who are innocent. And others may have made a mistake but deserve something better than a disproportionate cookie-cutter sentence.”
The criminal appeals process varies from state to state. It generally involves a review of the case records and an analysis of errors or legal mistakes that resulted in a violation of a criminal defendant’s rights. Improper admission of evidence, sentencing error, and ineffective assistance of trial counsel are some common examples of rights violations. If an appellate judge determines that an error was significant enough, the judge can overturn the conviction, modify the sentence, or dismiss certain charges. In some cases, a successful appeal results in the case being permanently overturned.
Besides fighting in court, the firm prides itself on being responsive to clients and client family members. “One of the things that separates our firm from other firms is that we return phone calls and emails relatively quickly,” notes law firm manager Dionne A. Parker. “When you’re a Spolin Law client, you are a VIP.”
Parker is admitted to practice in Maryland and in front of the United States Supreme Court, although she does not perform any legal work for Spolin Law or its clients. Nonetheless, her legal background helps her keep the law firm operating smoothly, which includes communicating with clients, courthouses, attorneys, and other Spolin Law team members to make sure that the firm has what it needs to build its cases.
Caitlin Dukes, one of the firm’s attorneys, remembers the extensive work required on a noteworthy case the firm won earlier this year. As a result of Spolin Law’s efforts, a client’s murder conviction was overturned and Superior Court Judge James Otto ordered for the client to be released on the very day the case was argued.
Spolin had served as the primary author of the written argument while Dukes had handled the oral argument in court, skillfully responding to the prosecutor’s contention that the client should remain in prison for life.
“He had spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit,” says Dukes, who is also a former prosecutor. “When I spoke with the client in our office shortly after his release, it was like meeting a brand-new person. He saw a world of possibilities in front of him, and I could see he was ready to begin his new life on the outside.”
The firm had won a similar case a few months earlier, although the prosecutor there had focused on the legality of the law used to overturn the life sentence. Spolin eventually obtained the dismissal of the life sentence for the client, who was just released from prison about two weeks before the publication of this article. The prosecutor had argued that the underlying law allowing the removal of the life sentence violated the state constitution. But Spolin and his team dissected the prosecutor’s arguments piece by piece, explaining to the judge how the law was indeed constitutional and how the client was entitled to release under every possible theory.
“It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time,” Spolin recalls. “The firm is selective in the clients it takes on, but when we do take on a client, we go all out.”
Fighting to win cases is just one aspect of the firm’s work. The lawyers and staff at the firm also do their best to help clients and family members get through difficult times. The firm’s senior case manager, Marti Wise, remembers the work she did helping to calm down a concerned father whose juvenile son had been wrongfully charged with murder.
“The entire process seemed stacked against his son, and he did not know where to turn,” Wise notes. “After seeing that this was a case we could handle, I made it my job to help him relax and know that this was ‘our problem’ and not his problem anymore.” In the end, the firm’s work resulted in Superior Court Judge William Wood completely dismissing the case. Minutes after the dismissal motion was argued, the client stood up and walked out of court a free man with no criminal record.
Spolin makes a point of explaining that success on past cases does not guarantee success on future cases. Nonetheless, the firm’s success comes as no surprise to other lawyers who have known Spolin over the years.
“He is a master of legal argument,” says Isaiah Soval-Levine, a Washington, DC–based lawyer who has known Spolin for more than a decade. “But he’s also just an incredibly nice guy. Treating people with respect is part of who he is, so it’s no surprise that in many cases his clients are as happy with how they were treated as they are with the outcome in court.”
“Spolin Law gave us the red-carpet treatment, and it shows,” says Twonia Anderson, the fiancé of a client whose life sentence was overturned in September of 2019 as a result of the firm’s efforts. “Every time the prosecutor filed a motion or argument, they responded with something better. I could tell that our case was important to the firm.”
Spolin Law’s treatment of clients and case outcomes have earned it awards from various organizations, including the National Trial Lawyers, the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys, and Attorney & Practice Magazine. This publication joins a growing list of organizations recognizing the firm’s work.
“We’ve gotten to where we are because of the idea of respect,” observes Spolin. “Respect for each client, respect for our work, and respect for the rights each person has under federal and state law.”
For inmates who have been shoved around by the criminal justice system and whose guilt was assumed from day one, this must feel like a breath of fresh air.
To learn more about Spolin Law and how its criminal appeals lawyers can help on your case, call us at (866) 716-2805.
Prior success does not guarantee future success.
Governor Publicly Announces Commutation of Sentence for Spolin Law Client, Which He Did by HimselfPublished on July 14, 2020
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.
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 or staff members at (866) 716-2805. Please also note that Spolin Law was not the law firm involved in the Application for Commutation of Sentence for this client. This post is intended to celebrate the client’s win, which he achieved without our assistance on this matter.
New York legislators take action against police brutality by proposing a new bill to ban the chokeholdPublished on July 9, 2020
Pressured by the public protests demanding justice for George Floyd, New York legislators have just passed a bill that will ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement. Although only recently adopted, this revolutionary bill originated in 2014 just after 43-year-old Eric Garner was strangled to death by four New York police officers.
In a peaceful arrest that quickly turned violent, Staten Island local, Eric Garner, was killed by NYPD officers on July 17, 2014. Being suspected of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, Garner was approached by four police officers who proceeded to forcefully push him to the ground and hold him in a chokehold for around 15 seconds. In a disturbing video that recorded the incident, Garner was seen flailing his arms and gasping for air as he urgently repeats the phrase, “I can’t breathe,” a total of 11 times. Just moments later, Garner lost consciousness and died.
The NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was responsible for Garner’s death, was fired from his job, but was never criminally prosecuted for his crimes.
In 2015, a year after Garner’s murder, New York Assemblyman Walter Mosley proposed a bill to New York Legislators in hopes of banning the use of the chokehold by New York Police officers. However, with little support behind it, the bill was abandoned and never signed into law.
Nevertheless, overwhelming pressure from the public over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis pushed New York Legislators to revive the bill. Sponsored once again by Assemblyman Mosley, the bill, later named the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act in honor of Garner, was finally put to a vote in June of 2020, almost 5 years after its original proposal.
On Monday, June 8, the bill was passed by both the New York Assembly and Senate by a vote of 140-three. Just four days later on Friday, June 11th, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act into law.
The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act states that the use of a chokehold or any other similar restraint that restricts breathing is considered a class C felony and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Chokeholds have been prohibited in New York since 1993, however according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, “The NYPD ban on chokeholds was not enough to protect Eric Garner, and it is not enough today. This legislation will put an end to the practice across the state.” With these new, stricter laws that now make the use of a chokehold a state crime, Heastie and other assembly members hope to prevent such horrible incidents from ever happening again.
The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act was not the only bill signed into law by Governor Cuomo on Friday. In addition to banning the chokehold, New York legislators passed bills that require police disciplinary records be made public, prohibit race-based 911 calls, and force state police officers to wear body cameras.
These are just a few of the bills included in a new police reform bill package proposed by New York Legislators following the nationwide George Floyd protests. Cuomo has signed only four of the proposed 10 bills. The remaining six bills still await his signature.
At the bills’ public signing, Governor Cuomo made a statement explaining his motivation behind approving them saying, “Police reform is long overdue.” The governor said that these bills aren’t just about George Floyd’s murder, but about the “long list” of African American citizens who too have fallen victim to police brutality. Cuomo thinks that the implementation of these new bills will bring the state of New York one step closer towards ending the “injustices against minorities in America by the criminal justice system.”
This sweeping reform in New York has inspired other states to establish similar policies. In states like California, Chicago, Denver, Florida, Minneapolis and Phoenix, county police departments have announced that they will suspend the use of the chokehold, and the just as dangerous carotid restraint. Across the globe in France, the French government announced that it too is banning law enforcement officials from using chokeholds.
The passing of the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act will bring necessary change that New York politicians and citizens have been waiting for. Assembly member and sponsor of the bill, Walter Mosley expressed his enthusiasm in front of the New York State Assembly saying, “In 2015 I introduced this bill to outlaw chokeholds statewide, and I am proud to see it taken up today as we pass legislation to reform our criminal justice system.”
Although Mosley is glad to have achieved such a feat, he thinks there is much more to be done in order to finally put an end to police brutality. He said, “This is an important step forward, but it will not be the last. We must work to change the way that police officers interact with communities of color, or we will continue to see these killings occur.”
If you are in need of legal help in New York, please contact Spolin Law, P.C.