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.
7 Best Pre-Trial Motions That Will Help You Overturn a Conviction on AppealPublished on May 31, 2022
A criminal defense attorney doesn’t automatically begin thinking about appealing a conviction that hasn’t even happened yet. However, the best criminal defense lawyers are aware of the need to preserve issues for appeal by filing certain motions, objecting to motions, and presenting evidence or testimony at trial. In some cases, issues must be raised before trial even begins.
To overturn a conviction on appeal because of an error in a trial court ruling, an appellate attorney must show that the error infected or changed the outcome of the trial. Not just any error will do. The pre-trial motions discussed below set up an appeal by presenting requests that, if denied, may change the fairness or outcome of the trial.
When you hire the award-winning criminal appeals lawyers at Spolin Law P.C., we will evaluate every motion that was made or should have been made in your case. Our legal team will identify legal errors that can effectively get your conviction overturned.
Call us today to learn about your options for relief: (310) 424-5816.
1. Motion to Dismiss
A motion to dismiss an indictment or case against a defendant is a powerful basis for an appeal. When a court denies a pre-trial motion, the defendant usually has to show that they were prejudiced by the denial. Denial of a motion to dismiss has obvious prejudice: the defendant would never have been tried had the motion been granted. The appellate court’s reversal of a denial would require overturning a conviction.
A motion to dismiss may be based on numerous grounds, including the following.
If the defendant raises a constitutional objection as outlined above to their indictment or trial in a pre-trial motion and the motion is denied, a successful appeal will overturn the conviction.
Validity of the Indictment or Information
An indictment may fail to allege all the elements necessary to state a crime or to support the charge against the defendant. If the indictment fails to allege intent or knowledge, for example, and those elements are part of the crime charged, the indictment is faulty and should be dismissed. In some states, the failure of the indictment to allege all necessary elements is not accomplished with a pre-motion but with a demurrer, which serves as a challenge to an indictment. If a trial court overrules a demurrer, the defendant may raise that issue on appeal.
Statute of Limitations
Most states have laws that limit the time in which the state may charge the defendant with a certain crime. If the statute of limitations has passed, the defendant may not be tried. A motion to dismiss based on the limitations period, if denied, may be appealed, and could result in the case being overturned.
Lack of Jurisdiction over the Defendant or the Case or Improper Venue
Jurisdiction over the case and the defendant must exist before a trial is valid. Likewise, the case must be brought in the proper venue or court.
A state court may lack jurisdiction over the case if the allegedly unlawful act was a violation of federal rather than state law or if the court has lacks jurisdiction over the type of crime alleged. For example, in some states, some courts are limited to hearing misdemeanors and so would not have jurisdiction over a felony. A court may also lack jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant if the offense is alleged to have occurred entirely outside of the state.
Venue may be inappropriate if the defendant does not reside in the county and the crime with which the defendant is charged occurred entirely outside the county in which they are being tried. While most state statutes define venue broadly, allowing the defendant to be tried in any county in which any part of an offense (such as planning it) took place, venue may be lacking and may be the subject of a motion to dismiss.
If the trial court denies a valid motion to dismiss, a successful appeal will overturn the conviction.
2. Motion to Suppress
Evidence obtained against the defendant in violation of their constitutional rights may support a motion to dismiss, as indicated above, if the violation affects the validity of the indictment or information against the defendant. If the court declines to dismiss the action or if the unconstitutionally obtained evidence does not render the indictment or information invalid, a defense attorney may file a motion to suppress the evidence. This is a motion in which the attorney requests the court to forbid the state from using during the trial any evidence that it obtained in violation of the defendant’s rights. Although the granting of such a motion does not result in dismissal of the charge against the defendant, the exclusion of evidence may severely undermine the state’s case against them.
This is especially true of statements the state obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights. Even statements short of a confession can be damaging or potentially fatal to a defense. They may be contradictory or may implicate the defendant in the offense with which they are charged. Without admissions or implicating statements, the state will be forced to used other, less direct, and possibly less reliable or believable evidence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The absence of incriminating evidence that the state seized in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures may likewise cripple the state’s case. Without that evidence, the state must find alternative means to establish the defendant’s guilt.
The denial of a valid motion to suppress is a powerful basis on which to overturn a conviction on appeal. Particularly if the bulk of the state’s case is based on illegally obtained evidence, a motion to suppress, if it had been granted, would have substantially weakened the state’s prosecution, and will provide the prejudice necessary for an appellate to reverse a conviction.
3. Motion for Discovery — Beyond Brady
In a criminal prosecution, the state has the duty, known as the Brady duty, to provide the defense with exculpatory evidence in its possession or control. Relying on the prosecutor’s determination of what is exculpatory and what is not is risky. Filing a motion for discovery enables the defendant to seek specific physical evidence, witness statements, and records that might otherwise never be turned over. Even if the information or evidence is only tangentially related to the defense, it may provide a launching point for locating other evidence. It may uncover evidence or witnesses damaging to the prosecution’s case. As long as the motion is not a fishing expedition, a court should allow discovery of the state’s evidence and witnesses.
For instance, a defendant’s discovery motion may request the names of the police officers or investigators who gathered the evidence against the defendant. In some cases, the defendant may have the right to review the officer’s or investigator’s file (through a Pitchess Motion) to determine whether complaints were filed against him or her for Fourth Amendment violations. Such evidence may be pertinent to a motion to dismiss or motion to suppress. Similarly, the defendant may discover that persons other than witnesses have knowledge of the facts of the case. These people may provide invaluable information for the defense that the prosecution did not pursue.
If a court denies a valid motion to dismiss and evidence valuable to the defense was available in the state’s possession or control, such a denial supports overturning the conviction on appeal because the defendant was not given a fair trial — that is, not given the chance to introduce to the jury evidence that undermined the state’s case.
4. Motion in Limine
Related to a motion to suppress, a motion in limine asks the court to admit or exclude certain evidence or testimony at the trial. While a motion to suppress is generally based on constitutional violations, a motion in limine is based on prejudice to the defendant. The denial of the motions listed below may result in the reversal of a conviction on appeal. Likewise, if the court grants the motion and the state acts contrary to the decision, an appellate court may reverse the conviction.
Motion to admit or exclude prior conviction(s) for crimes of moral turpitude to impeach witness credibility. Depending on whether the witness is favorable to the state or to the defendant, this motion asks the judge to exercise thier discretion to allow the jury to hear about prior conduct that could affect the credibility of a state’s witness or to exclude such evidence against a defense witness. Whether the state’s witness is susceptible to impeachment can be determined by a motion for discovery, discussed above.
Motion to bar the prosecutor from commenting upon an accused’s invocation of Fifth Amendment rights. The defendant has a Fifth Amendment right not to make incriminating statements against themself and the right not to testify at trial. The Constitution also protects the defendant’s right to be represented by counsel. Although the Constitution bars a prosecutor from commenting directly or indirectly upon an accused’s invocation of these Constitutional rights, evidence obtained during discovery may indicate that the state could refer to the exercise of these rights during opening or closing, particularly if the state’s case is otherwise weak. A defense attorney should seek to prevent such a reference by moving the court for an order prohibiting it.
Bruton Motion to bar the prosecution in a joint trial from introducing a co-defendant’s out-of-court statement. Allowing such a statement violates the defendant’s right under the Sixth Amendment to confront the witnesses against them, and the United States Supreme Court has held that a limiting instruction to consider the statement only in determining the co-defendant’s guilt or innocence is insufficient to remedy the violation of the confrontation clause. The prosecutor’s disclosure of evidence as well as discovery may reveal the state’s intent to use an out-of-court-statement against a co-defendant. Counsel for the defendant should file a Bruton motion to prohibit such use.
Frye Motion, a special motion in limine, dealing with scientific or expert evidence. If the scientific or other technique for analyzing evidence or testimony is new, unestablished, or not generally accepted in its field, it may be unreliable and damaging to the defendant. A Frye motion asks the judge to bar the use of such evidence unless the reliability of the scientific method or the expertise of the interpreting witness are established. Pseudo-scientific evidence can influence the jury to convict a defendant when other evidence would not.
Motion to disclose identity of informant. The state does not ordinarily disclose the identity of a confidential informant. However, knowing who the informant is can provide the defendant with the opportunity to call the informant as a witness and impeach them, identify an ulterior motive for providing information to the authorities, or otherwise undermine the state’s case. Identifying the informant may be necessary to provide the defendant with a fair trial. If the information supplied is the only basis for probable cause for a search or for charging the defendant or the state’s case is based primarily on information from an informant, filing a motion to identify the informant is critical.
The denial of any of the motions in limine listed above affect the fairness of the trial and prejudice the defendant. On appeal, the appellate court’s reversal of the denial will support overturning the conviction.
5. Motion for a Change of Venue
A defendant is entitled to be judged by an impartial jury based only on the evidence presented at trial. In some cases, a crime is sensationalized by the media, statements by the police or a victim, video recordings of the events leading to a charge against a defendant, or simply the unusual, unique, or heinous nature of the crime. When that happens, the judgment of jurors in the jury pool in the vicinity of the crime may be so tainted by what they have seen or heard that they can no longer be unbiased — that is, they can no longer reasonably say that they have not formed an opinion on guilt or innocence. The defendant is therefore unable to receive a fair trial from that jury pool. For a defense attorney who believes that the passions and prejudices of potential jurors would deprive their client of a fair trial, a motion for a change of venue can be crucial.
6. Motion to Sever Trial or Cases
In most states, when the defendant is accused of committing a crime, connected crimes, or a series of crimes with another person or persons, the defendant and any others charged with the crime(s) are tried together as co-defendants. This is to preserve state resources: to keep the prosecution from having to present the same witnesses and evidence multiple times. However, in some circumstances, the risk exists that evidence against one of the co-defendants will bleed over into the evidence against the defendant, resulting in a conviction founded on insufficient evidence against the defendant.
In other cases, the interests of the co-defendant(s) are not entirely aligned with the interest of the defendant. Evidence or testimony that may be damaging to one co-defendant may be beneficial to the defendant and competing motions in limine may work to the disadvantage of the defendant. Likewise, a co-defendant might have made an incriminating statement to the authorities while the defendant did not. As stated above, a Bruton motion is supposed to limit the use of a co-defendant’s statement against a defendant, but a court may overrule such a motion, and the statement will come in, prejudicing the defendant.
In such a case, a pre-trial motion to sever the trials against the defendant and their co-defendant(s) is imperative. Whenever the evidence against one co-defendant is unfairly prejudicial to the defendant, an attorney should move to separate the trials. A defendant deserves a fair trial, which is impossible if the interests of the co-defendant(s) and the defendant are at odds.
Similarly, if a defendant has a number of unrelated cases against them that have been combined, a fair trial may not be possible. The risk exists that strong evidence in one case may cause the jury to convict the defendant in the other cases, even if conviction in those cases is not supported by the evidence. Rather than having to appeal based on sufficiency of the evidence, an attorney should file a motion to sever the cases and have each tried separately. If the motion is denied and the defendant convicted in all cases, failure to sever the cases is a strong basis for overturning the convictions on appeal.
7. Motions Particular to Individual States
Some states have pre-trial motions unique to their trial process, and counsel should investigate and take advantage of these motions. For instance, in many states, an attorney may file a motion for a bill of particulars. A bill of particulars requests the prosecutor to expand on a vague information or indictment and identify specific facts supporting the charge against the defendant, which can help a defendant prepare for trial or prepare a motion in limine to exclude certain evidence. It does not provide the prosecutor’s strategy or identify the precise evidence that the state will use to prove each element of its case, but a bill of particulars can assist the defense in limiting the evidence presented at trial and prevent surprise.
If the court denies a motion for a bill of particulars and the defendant is convicted, the denial may have deprived the defendant of a fair trial and is strong grounds for overturning the conviction on appeal.
In some states, a motion for a bill of particulars tolls the running of the speedy-trial calculation, so an attorney will need to consider whether the bill of particulars or the speedy-trial strategy is more effective.
Other pre-trial motions, if denied, can set up the grounds for a reversal of a conviction. The availability of motions such as this make it crucial for an attorney to investigate all available pre-trial motions.
Spolin Law P.C. Identifies All Possible Pre-Trial Motions
Overturning a conviction on appeal is a daunting task. Generally, a defendant must show prejudice from an error in the trial to vacate the conviction, and appellate courts are reluctant to find prejudice that infected the fairness of the trial. A trial court’s denial of any of the motions listed above would provide strong support for prejudice and reversal of the conviction. They all go to whether the defendant received a fair and constitutionally sound trial, whether it is state or federal constitutional violations, the exclusion of evidence that could have been presented for the defense, or admission of unfairly prejudicial evidence or testimony. While pre-trial motions have a significant impact on how a criminal trial is conducted, they are also strategic ways to set up the success of an appeal and overturn a conviction.
When the award-winning criminal appeals lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. approach a case, we immediately review trial court transcripts to determine if the defense attorney missed any potential pre-trial motions. Additionally, we consider whether the trial court erred in denying any motions that were presented. This information will be the strong basis for our appeal or writ of habeas corpus.
To learn more about how we can help in your case, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816.
Texas’s Best: Aaron Spolin Ranked as One of Texas’s Top 10 Law Firms for Criminal LawPublished on January 16, 2022
Attorney Aaron Spolin Named One of “10 Best” Criminal Lawyers in Texas
Spolin Law P.C. is pleased to announce that lead attorney Aaron Spolin has been named one of the “10 Best” criminal law attorneys in Texas.
The impartial third-party attorney rating organization American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (AIOCLA) selected Mr. Spolin for its 2021 “10 Best in Criminal Law in Texas” list for exceptional and outstanding client services. However, there are several other criteria that contributed to Mr. Spolin being selected for this award.
Selection Criteria for “10 Best” Award
The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys has a high standard for selecting the top criminal law attorneys in each state. They select lawyers based on the following:
- 10/10 in Client Satisfaction
- Top Rated
- Industry Leaders
- No Unresolved Complaints
- Speaking Engagements
- Education and Continuing Education
The criminal defense lawyers who receive this award must be highly rated and actively engaged in the legal community in order for them to receive this award.
The AIOCLA Award Means Top Legal Assistance and Premier Customer Service
The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys “10 Best” Award indicates a lawyer provides top legal assistance and the best customer service. The AIOCLA is an “impartial third-party attorney rating service and invitation-only legal organization recognizing excellence in practitioners in the field.” There are six divisions in which attorneys may qualify, with Criminal Law being one of them.
This prestigious honor requires that each attorney must:
- Be nominated by the Institute, a client, and/or a fellow attorney
- Have attained the highest degree of professional achievement in the field of law
- Achieve an impeccable Client Satisfaction rating
The Institute points out that “[m]any attorneys can achieve high degrees of success, but this is oftentimes at the expense or satisfaction of the most important person in the case – the client.” The AIOCLA awards attorneys that have achieved unparalleled success for the benefit of their clients. Membership in this category is an exclusive honor and is only extended to a select few who have reached the top of their professions while putting the client first.
Contact Attorney Aaron Spolin and Spolin Law P.C. for Your Criminal Case
The AIOCLA “10 Best in Criminal Law in Texas” award helps clients make educated decisions when it comes to choosing an attorney. Clients who select Spolin Law P.C. can know that they will get top criminal defense and criminal appeals legal assistance as well as premier customer service.
To speak with Texas criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin and the award-winning legal team at Spolin Law P.C. contact us at (310) 424-5816 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation of your case. With offices conveniently located in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, we are accessible throughout Texas.
Spolin Law Achieves Success for Client in the California Supreme CourtPublished on November 25, 2021
Spolin Law successfully argued a client’s case in the Supreme Court of California, forcing the case back to the CA Court of Appeal for reconsideration.
On September 22, 2021, after nearly 10 months of review, the Supreme Court of California issued an order in a Spolin Law P.C. case that involved a client who was deprived of her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. The client was convicted under the doctrine of natural and probable consequences, which is in direct violation of SB 1437, a Senate Bill that was passed in September 2018.
SB 1437 changed California Penal Code (PC) sections 188 and 189 to end the role of the “natural and probable consequences” doctrine in murder cases. It makes it harder for people to be convicted of felony murder with fewer exceptions. Many people have been released from prison for time served and had their sentences reduced under SB 1437.
After the passing of SB 1437, a groundbreaking case was decided in July 2021 – People v. Lewis 11 Cal.5th 952 (2021). That case held that the defendant is entitled to counsel, and there is no requirement for a distinct prima facie showing before the appointment of counsel.
In violation of Spolin Law client’s due process rights, the Superior Court did not appoint counsel as mandated by SB 1437 and related case law. Additionally, the Court did not give our client the opportunity to file a reply to the prosecution’s response to her petition.
Upon appeal, a Spolin Law attorney argued that our client could not be convicted under the current law. The Superior Court and Court of Appeal erred in determining that the client did not make prima facie showing of eligibility for resentencing. Our client was not only wrongfully convicted under the law, but she was not appointed counsel, nor given the right to file a reply in her case.
The Superior Court and the Court of Appeal failed to grant a hearing. If a hearing had taken place, Spolin Law attorneys argued that the prosecution would have been unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that our client was not convicted pursuant to the natural and probable consequences doctrine. As mentioned previously, SB 1437 made convictions under the natural and probable consequences doctrine invalid. Thus, our client could not be convicted under current law and her petition for resentencing pursuant to PC 1170.95 should have been granted.
The Supreme Court of California agreed that Spolin Law client’s case should be reconsidered in light of People v. Lewis. The case has been transferred back to the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division One, with directions to vacate its decision and reconsider.
Learn How a CA Criminal Appeals Lawyer Can Help in Your Case
Spolin Law P.C. is one of the top criminal appeals law firms in the nation. Founder and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin is ranked in the top 1% of attorneys in the state of California. He is an award-winning Los Angeles criminal appeals attorney. The lawyers at Spolin Law have worked with clients at all levels of the judicial process, including in the Supreme Court. We have a track record of success. For questions regarding how a criminal appeals lawyer may help you with your case, call (310) 424-5816.
Thousands of California Inmates Eligible to Seek Reduced Sentences Under SB 775, Signed by Governor Gavin Newsom YesterdayPublished on October 6, 2021
After spending months in the California state legislature, Senate Bill 775 was just signed into law yesterday, October 5, 2021, by Governor Gavin Newsom. This revolutionary new bill will change the lives of hundreds of California inmates, resulting in many individuals leaving prison decades before they would otherwise be free.
California criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin explains this new law, how it will affect criminal cases, and how prison inmates can achieve their freedom if their cases fall under the law. Mr. Spolin’s extensive analysis has been published in video and article form, viewable here. The following information explains the history of the law and some details about its application.
What Is Senate Bill 775?
This bill, sponsored by District 13 senator Josh Becker, was introduced to the State Senate on February 19th, 2021, passed by the Senate on June 2nd, and passed by assembly on September 10. Now, just leaving the Governor’s desk, this recently signed bill will serve justice to those wrongly convicted of a killing by expanding on the legal protections stipulated in Senate Bill 1437.
How Does SB 775 Expand on SB 1437?
Senate Bill 1437, passed in 2018, prohibited prosecutors from seeking first or second-degree murder sentences for a “felony murder” case in which the person on trial was “not the actual killer, did not act with the intent to kill, or was not a major participant in the underlying felony who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
Senate Bill 1437, and now its counterpart Senate Bill 775, challenged the previously established “natural and probable consequences doctrine” under which someone’s malice was implied solely by their participation in the crime.
As these bills sought to highlight, such a concept had many flaws and fails to consider many very probable scenarios. As a result, those who may have participated in a crime, but were unaware of the killing and had no intent to inflict harm were put behind bars for murder in the first or second degree alongside the killer themself.
However, while Senate Bill 1437 was the first legislation to initially highlight this disparity in the criminal justice system, it did have some holes of its own that Senate Bill 775 hopes to fill and address; among the largest being the expansion of the Senate Bill 1437 protection to those convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder, not just murder.
Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 775, defendants in these situations would oftentimes plead guilty to a lesser charge than murder, like manslaughter, with hopes of a shorter sentence and a chance at a normal life once again. However, in doing so, these people cut themselves out of the chance to receive the post-conviction relief offered solely to murder convicts under Senate Bill 1437. Additionally, individuals convicted of attempted murder paradoxically received a worse outcome than those convicted of murder.
Senate Bill 775 has changed that, now allowing those with attempted murder and manslaughter convictions to petition to have those crimes (and the corresponding sentences) removed. Having this relief granted is not guaranteed, however, as they and their lawyer will need to convince a judge that they were not a “major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
How Spolin Law P.C. Will Use SB 775 To Benefit Clients
This update to California state legislation will have a grand and positive impact on the work done at Spolin Law P.C. With this extra layer of protection for those convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter, many individuals can now get the justice that was once awarded to felony murder cases.
To learn if you may be eligible for such post-conviction action or if you have any questions about SB 775, feel free to reach out to your (310) 424-5816 to begin your petition for a sentence reduction.
Spolin Law P.C. Wins Case In Texas Court of Criminal AppealsPublished on September 30, 2021
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently issued an opinion in favor of Spolin Law P.C.’s client who was wrongfully denied a jury trial. (Case number PD-0593-20.)
In this 2016 case, the client waived his right to a trial by jury in anticipation of a negotiated plea agreement. That plea bargain was never completed, so the client attempted to withdraw the jury waiver multiple times. Instead, the trial court gave him a bench trial and he was found guilty and sentenced. The client contacted Spolin Law P.C. for help.
Spolin Law made arguments based on Constitutional and Texas law that the withdrawal requests of the client were valid, and he should have been given a jury trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas agreed with Spolin Law. As a result, the trial court decision has been reversed.
Arguments Spolin Law Used to Appeal the Case
Upon appeal, Spolin Law argued the following points for the client:
These arguments are based on the facts of the case and required legal arguments established in Constitutional law and prior case decisions in Texas.
A defendant has an “absolute” right to a jury trial; however, it may be waived. According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a waiver must “be made in person by the defendant in writing in open court with the consent and approval of the court, and the attorney representing the state.” The Texas Appellate Court found that although the client had signed a document waiving his right to a jury trial, that waiver was not made in open court. Thus, the jury-trial waiver was not valid, and the trial court abused its discretion by failing to allow the client to withdraw his jury-trial waiver.
The Appellate Court further found that the defendant “certainly made his ambivalence about waiving a jury trial clear to the trial court at the very outset.” He made multiple requests for a jury trial on multiple occasions.
Outcome of the Case
On September 22, 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower court’s judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial consistent with the opinion. Spolin Law’s client will get his day in court before a jury of his peers.
Speak to a Texas Criminal Appeals Lawyer at Spolin Law P.C.
Spolin Law P.C. founder Aaron Spolin is a former prosecutor and a top-ranked criminal law attorney. He is an award-winning Texas criminal appeals attorney who is dedicated to fighting for the rights of his clients.
To speak with the legal team at Spolin Law P.C. about how the outcome of this case might affect your own case or any other criminal law matter, please call us at (866)-617-9620. The firm handles state and federal post-conviction matters.
Spolin Law P.C. Awards 2021 Civil Rights & Criminal Law Scholarship WinnerPublished on September 26, 2021
Spolin Law P.C. has the great pleasure of announcing the winner of our 2021 Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship. This year, we have chosen Yumei Duan to receive our $1,000 scholarship that goes toward tuition and other educational expenses.
Spolin Law P.C. developed this scholarship to aid in their goal to raise awareness of criminal and civil rights issues. This scholarship enables us to support students who are passionate about these principles and strive to implement them in their careers.
Ms. Duan showcased outstanding academic achievements and produced a compelling essay expressing the need to maintain the principles of the US Constitution. Ms. Duan urges that failing to do so diminishes the document’s value and prevents us from realizing our constitutional rights.
Read Ms. Duan’s full essay here.
She is set to graduate from Sol Price School of USC in 2022 with her master’s degree. The Los Angeles criminal appeals attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. strive to encourage and support the next generation of civil rights leaders who are determined to safeguard the constitutional rights of US citizens.
We encourage students from different fields to apply.
A Guide to Understanding Your Case Status UpdatesPublished on September 26, 2021
|Case Status Details||What This Means||Next Steps|
Requested — extension of time
Granted — extension of time
Updates on requested extensions of time are important to pay attention to as they adhere to strict timelines.
“Requested – extension of time” does not impact when the extension starts. Once the update says “Granted,” your attorney will be notified.
The clock for the given number of days of the extension starts when the extension is granted.
|Tentative Opinion memo||
Tentative opinion memos are used as a way to streamline oral arguments by determining in advance if an oral argument is needed.
If the court finds the legal arguments and facts to have been adequately presented in the briefs and record, then a Tentative Opinion memo would be filed to indicate the majority of the justices on the appeals panel agree on a tentative opinion.
Some tentative opinion memos will indicate what to focus on in oral argument, while others might express that oral argument would not significantly impact the decisional process.
The judges may change their mind on the ruling following oral argument, but it is rare that they do.
After a Tentative Opinion memo, the next step in the appeals process is typically oral argument.
If the majority of the justices on the appeals panel agree on a tentative opinion, then you have a choice of what your next steps are:
1. Counsel may notify the court to waive oral argument. Failure to waive oral argument is deemed as waiving it as well.
2. Counsel can reconfirm their original decision to request oral argument.
2.a. In this case, each party’s oral argument is limited to 15 minutes. Due to the fact that the judges are already briefed on the case and have made a tentative opinion, you are not permitted to repeat the arguments stated in your brief.
|Disputed Issue memo||
A Disputed Issue memo is a type of Tentative Opinion memo where the majority of justices on the panel do not concur on the tentative opinion. In this case, the court’s ruling depends on an issue to be discussed in oral argument.
Disputed Issue memos give both parties notice about what is going to happen at oral argument, and what issues to focus on to speed up the process.
If your case is met with a non-majority panel, you will receive the memo containing the main issues that were disputed by the panel members.
For the next steps, you and your attorney should go over what the Disputed Issue memo says to focus on to prepare for oral argument.
|Notice of appeal lodged/received||
Here the Court of Appeals is acknowledging they received the notice form the superior court.
After receiving this notice, attorneys don’t always check in, as it’s not a duty, so be sure to do so.
This start to the appeals process sets off a cascade of events that your attorney should be aware of.
|Oral argument waiver notice sent||
Oral argument is the time to emphasize the key issues of the case and make sure the court understands what is most important in your case. This can also be a time to ask the judges if they have any questions you can answer for them.
Happens if the court sends you a notice to ask if you want an oral argument and you do not respond.
The court assumes you are waiving your oral argument.
If the notice given by the court does not ask explicitly if you want to participate in oral argument, you can notify the appellate court that you would like to waive oral argument.
2021 Prison Poetry Contest Winners Announced!Published on August 31, 2021
To Whom It May Concern,
I am happy to announce the winners of the 2021 Spolin Law Prison Poetry Contest.
We had over 700 submissions, so it was very difficult for our panel to determine the poems to honor. Of course, poetry is subjective, so a different group of judges could have selected a totally different set of poems.
Five judges (including lawyers, poetry professors, and a former inmate) voted for the poems they thought were the best. The single poem with the most votes in each prison was selected for the “Winner – Best in Prison” award, and the one poem with the most votes nationwide was selected for the “Winner – Best in Nation” award. I have attached a list of the “Best in Prison” and “Best in Nation” award recipients.
We are now accepting submissions for the 2022 Spolin Law Prison Poetry Contest (deadline of June 1, 2022)! Further information about the contest is viewable at spolinlaw.com/poetry.
Criminal Appeals and Writs Attorney
($500 Prize and “Winner – Best in Nation” Certificate)
Gregory Truitt (#01701265)
Darrington Unit (State Prison)
Don’t count the days, just let them tick.
I don’t want drugs, not anymore.
Grant my appeal, I’ll be glad.
It was so long, it took him a while.
I said, “really, I see parole in twenty-five.”
And how Christians built prisons for people’s penance.
The law-library has solutions, in a combination of books.
The Judge said what, what was her ruling?
Than to incarcerate one innocent, and hand him a hoe.”
Slave to the State, no longer a man.
Justice is served, nope, nobody listened.
Furious are those prosecutors, who shed no tears.
Therefore somebody, anybody, needs to do this time.”
This story is finished, the lesson adjourned.
- Rodney Hollie (Former inmate)
- Aaron Spolin (Attorney)
- Dionne A. Parker (Attorney)
- Brittany Means (Professor)
- Adam Wright (Poet/Professor)
Rodney Hollie – Judge 1
Former inmate and former Spolin Law P.C. client
Rodney Hollie was wrongfully convicted of murder and served several years in prison before successfully overturning his conviction in 2020. He obtained his freedom in Superior Court on January 29, 2020, represented on that day by Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin and Caitlin Dukes. Mr. Hollie now gives lectures on wrongful convictions, life in prison, and the value of never giving up.
He had the following to say about the winning poem by Gregory Truitt:
“This poem reminds me of my time when I was serving my sentence. I found myself in the law library and the opinions that were from other inmates regarding my case. This [poem] was very relatable, and it gives you an insight into what an inmate goes through. No matter if you’re guilty or innocent, the prosecutors want someone to be found guilty for their own personal status.”
Aaron Spolin – Judge 2
Criminal appeals attorney and former prosecutor
Aaron Spolin handles criminal appeals, writs of habeas corpus, and other post-conviction matters throughout the country. He worked as an Assistant District Attorney before becoming an appeals lawyer. He has a Juris Doctorate degree from U.C. Berkeley School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University. He is also the author of Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials, which discusses the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.
Dionne Parker – Judge 3
Maryland attorney admitted to United States Supreme Court Bar
Dionne A. Parker is a Maryland attorney who is admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar. She is also an employee of Spolin Law P.C. who has graciously donated her time to assist the other judges in narrowing down the list of 700 poems. Ms. Parker has a Juris Doctorate degree from George Washington University Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude) from Washington Adventist University, where she majored in English.
Ms. Parker had the following to say regarding the winning poem:
“This poem resonated with me because it depicts a deliberate and prolific problem in this country – the prison industrial complex and the way that so many people, particularly those that are black and brown, are treated whether or not they are actually guilty of the crime charged. I felt the author’s quiet outrage at being trapped in a system that says one thing (about justice) but does another in the interest of having “someone” pay for the crime. The observation that slavery never really ended, it just morphed into a different type of servitude and bondage was also very astute, and is a view shared by many in communities of color. Last, I experienced a deep sense of sadness seeing the writer’s lack of hope cloaked in veiled optimism with the line “every exoneration, takes many years.” There are so few exonerations that take so many decades longer to occur than they should, that they are a very rare occurrence indeed.”
Brittany Means – Judge 4
Professor of English and Literary Critic
Brittany Means is a former professor and literary critic. She taught English at the University of Iowa and served as a judge for the Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction, a contest run by the University of Iowa Press. She has won over a dozen literary awards and accolades in the field of creative writing and has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Ball State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa.
Adam Wright – Judge 5
Professional Poet and Humanities Professor
Adam Wright is a professor of humanities subjects, including creative writing, literature, English, rhetoric, and comparative religions. He is also a professional poet. He is currently serving as a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas. Mr. Wright has two Master of Fine Arts degrees, one from the University of North Texas and another from the University of Central Oklahoma, the latter of which is in creative writing and literature. He also has three Bachelor of Arts degrees, all from Oklahoma State University, in the subjects of English, history, and broadcast journalism.
All the judges were impressed with the level of literary skill demonstrated in the competition.
Top-Voted Poems at Each Prison1
($100 Prize and “Winner – Best in Prison” Certificate)
Avenal State Prison (ASP)
Kirk Donche (T37441)
California City Correctional Facility (CAC)
Anthony Herod (T98057)
California Correctional Institution (CCI)
Rollin Denem (V44249)
California Institution for Women (CIW)
Ahmana Jones (X36713)
California Men’s Colony (CMC)
Berry Denton (P96760)
California State Prison, Corcoran (COR)
Marquise Byrd (AG0882)
California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC)
Raymond Anglin (BE8886) (tie)
Eric Hawkins (AX3820) (tie)
California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC)
Domanic Brown (K87924) (tie)
Nathaniel Sapp (F14459) (tie)
California State Prison, Solano (SOL)
Shaylor Watson (E79573)
Calipatria State Prison (CAL)
Patrick Hernandez (V76823) (tie)
Michael Mauricio (AD9717) (tie)
California State Prison, Centinela (CEN)
Joel D. Robinson (T92090)
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)
Vershonda Sneed (WF5363)
Correctional Training Facility (CTF)
Miguel Angel Vargas (F94177)
Folsom State Prison (FSP)
Danny Lewis (C39915)
High Desert State Prison (HDSP)
Robert A. Clark (BL2173)
Ironwood State Prison (ISP)
Donte Revels (BJ7076) (tie)
Sean E. Walker (AA0936) (tie)
Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP)
Tony Douglas Baga II (AA3798) (tie)
Davione Wiley (BF7896) (tie)
Los Angeles County Sheriff Men’s Central Jail
Rafael Martirosyan (E54812)
Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP)
David Brinson (J09563)
Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP)
Rodney Ross (P62462) (tie)
Daniel Saavedera (BL4928) (tie)
Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD)
Robert Snyder (AC9136)
Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP)
Edward Iturralde (BK0922) (tie)
Henderson Johnson (V02639) (tie)
San Joaquin County Jail
Juan Zazueta (000386389)
San Quentin State Prison (SQ)
Anthony Marzett (E68792)
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (SATF-CSP, Corcoran)
Anthony McDaniel, Jr. (AE5936)
Wasco State Prison (WSP)
Jamie Avila (T25040)
Downstate Correctional Facility
Sheldon Arnold (13A0519)
Eastern NY Correctional Facility
Peter Anakwe (99A2717)
Elmira Correctional Facility
Antonio Jones (96B1330)
Mid-State Correctional Facility
Vincent Carmona (14A0979)
Shawangunk Correctional Facility
Rogelio Ferrer (14A3515)
Southport Correctional Facility
Stanny Vargas (17A5213)
A.M. “Mac” Stringfellow Unit
William Venable (02058841)
Alfred D. Hughes Unit
Jose Ramos (02176043)
Allan B. Polunsky Unit
James Wibi Jackson (01841911)
Barry B. Telford Unit
Aguilar Gilberto Gonzalez (01998446)
Beauford H. Jester III Unit
George R. Lopez (01465634)
Beauford H. Jester IV Unit
Eliseo Ruiz Mendez (01929729)
C.T. Terrell Unit
Derrick B. Johnson (01622794)
Christina Melton Crain Unit
Shanetha Coleman (01798193)
Clarence N. Stevenson Unit
Shannon D. Marshall (01007893)
Edward Lawrence (02171629)
Cleveland McDonald (02140873)
Daniel Webster Wallace Unit
Jamie Ash (02003564)
Aaron Ellis Osby (01957505)
Diboll Correctional Center
Curtis Collins (02159140)
Dolph Briscoe Unit
Gerry D. Williams (02062167)
Dr. Lane Murray Unit
Rebecca L. Dugas (02120794)
Hymon A. Walker (01014857)
Fort Stockton Unit
Alvino Ramos (02073005)
French Robertson Unit
Samuel Gonzalez Almazan (02121251)
George Beto Unit
Conrado Calderas III (01792384)
Gib Lewis Unit
Gonzalo Garcia (02057314)
H. H. Coffield Unit
Sammie Caston (02058587)
Nicholas Keys (02155630)
James “Jay” H. Byrd Unit
James B. Jones (02075024)
James Lynaugh Unit
Alfredo Coleman (02123604)
James V. Allred Unit
Greg Fonseca (01878692)
Jerry H. Hodge Unit
John Porter (02061132)
Jim Ferguson Unit
Larry Holloway (01899560)
Joe Ney Unit
Moses Cervantes (01982996)
John B. Connally Unit
Marcus Leslie (02001223)
John M. Wynne Unit
Angelo Baker (01731727)
John Montford Unit
Donald Haynes (01857411)
L.V. Hightower Unit
Jeremiah A. Griffin (02150534)
Louis C. Powledge Unit
Steven Kurt Baughman (02180609)
Mark W. Michael Unit
Santos Antonio (01883380)
Mark W. Stiles Unit
Kendrick Hill (02019313)
Mountain View Unit
Frances R. Ford (01916749)
O.B. Ellis Unit
Cenca A. King (01064695)
O.L. Luther Unit
Jon Miranda (01943242)
Oliver J. Bell Unit
Jose Luis Martinez (02133456)
Pam Lychner State Jail
Alejandro Zarate (02055033)
Preston E. Smith Unit
Daniel Ray (02067338)
Price Daniel Unit
Larry Bennett (01988215)
Richard P. LeBlanc Unit
Kurt Ray Kaspar, Jr. (01888794)
Ruben M. Torres Unit
Matthew Shipp (02162052)
Rufe Jordan Unit
Cameron Brown (02165650)
T.L. Roach Unit
Dillon Bevel (01893403)
Thomas Goree Unit
Bradley Jason Jordan (01505327)
W. F. Ramsey Unit
Patrick Denton (02176324) (tie)
Pablo Zuniga (00856129) (tie)
W. J. “Jim” Estelle Unit
Ryan Drake (01917718)
Wallace Pack Unit
David Taylor (01972889)
Wayne Scott Unit
Grady C. Nelson II (01463325)
Willacy County State Jail
Arthur Hill (01917765)
William G. McConnell Unit
Marcus A. Francis (01661135)
William P. Clements Unit
James E. Schad (01865444)
William P. Hobby Unit
Wendy Howeris (02285689)
William R. Boyd Unit
Syrjuan Benson (01922473)
United States Penitentiary, Lee
Manuel Hernandez (44584-112)
1 Note: Winners are listed under the prison facility that they identified on their submission form if identified; therefore, some individuals may no longer be at the listed facility.