Legal Blog

Spolin Law Wins More Cases In 2022 than In Any Other Year

Published on January 3, 2023

Spolin Law P.C. has had a record-making year. In 2022, the firm won more cases than in any previous year, and wins over the last few years include overturning multiple murder convictions, winning character-based applications, benefiting from new laws, winning in the California Supreme Court, and even overturning a conviction on a guilty-plea case.

“We don’t win every case,” says Aaron Spolin, one of the criminal appeals attorneys at the firm. “But we try our absolute hardest, and I’d like to think that we have as high a win rate as any firm out there, perhaps the highest.”

“The clients whom we are best able to help are those who have faith in us and patience throughout what can be a long road.” He likes to cite the case of a former Wasco State Prison inmate who won his freedom with the firm’s help in 2020. “He is a writer and a poet who fought his case for 15 years! That’s a very long time, but 15 years is a lot better than life in prison.” The client is now a sought-after inspirational speaker.

In looking back at 2022’s successes, Mr. Spolin credits the hard-working and resourceful attorneys at the firm. “People hustle here; we want to win win win.”

One such hard-working attorney is Jeremy Cutcher, who was a recipient of the firm’s 2022 California Legal Service Award. Mr. Cutcher recently won a remand and resentencing on a very difficult case from Justice Cynthia Lie in the Sixth Appellate District (oral argument was on July 5, 2022). Mr. Cutcher has also gone above and beyond this past year by volunteering to train other employees on new aspects of the law, including trainings on federal writ deadlines, the major case People v. Christopher Strong, as well as a number of other topics.

“For our clients, their lives are on the line. How could I not go all-out?” asks Mr. Cutcher. “There’s a reason that the other lawyers here and I do what we do. Our clients often have no voice. They’ve been treated like garbage. It’s a great feeling to fight for someone’s freedom and, in the process, treat them as a human being whose life really matters.”

The following is a partial list of firm wins only from 2022. It is not a full list and does not include earlier or later years. It includes in-court advocacy, out-of-court advocacy, and the delivery of legal advice. These successful outcomes do not guarantee success on a future case.

  • Win: P.C. 1170.95 Petition, Murder
    • 10/2/2022, People v. A.V.: The superior court granted the petition for resentencing, and the client was released after spending more than three decades in custody for a murder he did not intentionally commit.
  • Win: Direct Appeal, Voluntary Manslaughter
    • 12/16/2022, People v. D.K.: The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order, and the case was remanded back to the trial court, where the client’s voluntary manslaughter conviction was vacated, he was resentenced to felony assault, and he was released from custody.
  • Win: AB 2942 Application Submission, Carjacking/kidnapping
    • 8/1/2022, People v. J.G.: After firm submitted AB 2942 Application for Resentencing, the client was granted a resentencing and was released from prison after spending almost 25 years in custody. Note: firm did not represent client in the in-court advocacy stage.
  • Win: Direct Appeal, Major Felony
    • 4/26/2022, People v. G.R.: The appellate court vacated the sentence and remanded the matter to trial court due to a sentencing error.
  • Win: Direct Appeal, Major Felony
    • 7/15/2022, People v. E.L.: The appellate court reversed the judgment and remanded the case back to trial court for resentencing on a minor issue.
  • Win: Direct Appeal, Murder
    • 10/17/2022, People v. M.H.: The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order, and the case was remanded back to the trial court for a new hearing.
  • Win: Direct Appeal, Murder
    • 9/20/2022, People v. N.S.: The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order, and the case was remanded back to the trial court with directions to issue an order to show cause and hold a hearing.
  • Win: Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Carjacking
    • 7/21/2022, People v. M. H.: Client was ultimately released from prison after the filing of several petitions for writ of habeas corpus and a motion regarding the re-calculation of his good time credits.
  • Win: Parole Grant, Voluntary Manslaughter
    • 9/14/2022, People v. D.P.: After representation through written advocacy, the client was granted parole after spending over 17 years in custody.
  • Win: Petition for Review, Murder
    • 10/20/2022, People v. P.B.: The Supreme Court granted the petition for review.

To discuss how Spolin Law P.C. may be able to help with your (or your loved one’s) case, please call (866) 716-2805.

Categories: Uncategorized

Caitlin Dukes and Jeremy Cutcher Win Firm’s 2022 California Legal Service Award

Published on December 30, 2022

Spolin Law is proud to announce the winner for the 2022 California Legal Service Award, and it’s a tie! The winners are attorneys Caitlin Dukes and Jeremy Cutcher.

The California Legal Service Award was created by Spolin Law P.C. to recognize outstanding work on California cases for the firm’s clients. The firm currently has five employee attorneys admitted to practice in California, as well as multiple independent contractor attorneys, so Ms. Dukes and Mr. Cutcher are standing out from the crowd.

Caitlin Dukes is receiving this award in recognition of her outstanding work on the Velasquez case (PA013483, Los Angeles County Superior Court), where she overturned the murder conviction of a client who had been serving what was effectively a life sentence in prison. Her work involved research, writing, regular communication with the client, and then winning the client’s freedom (along with two other attorneys who were involved in the case). When the client and his family came into the office after being released from prison, he made a note to ask about Ms. Dukes and pass along a heartfelt “Thank you!” for her incredible work on the case.

Jeremy Cutcher is receiving this award for his “above-and-beyond” July 5, 2022, oral argument in front of the Sixth Appellate District, where he responded to sharp judicial questioning with aplomb and presented the best possible advocacy for a client with a difficult case, eventually winning a remand and resentencing for the client from Justice Cynthia Lie (Justices Greenwood and Grover concurring). Mr. Cutcher has also gone above and beyond this past year by volunteering to train other employees on new aspects of the law, including trainings on federal writ deadlines, the major case People v. Christopher Strong, as well as a number of other topics. Mr. Cutcher’s trainings have been for both lawyer and nonlawyer employees of the firm. He has a reputation in the firm for this thoroughness and his ability to distill complex legal concepts into more understandable form.

The California Legal Service Award comes with a price of $500 per winner. Spolin Law P.C. congratulates both Ms. Dukes and Mr. Cutcher on their outstanding work.

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Felony Murder Client Released After Spending Decades in Prison

Published on December 23, 2022

Spolin Law attorney Don Nguyen recently won a California P.C. 1170.95 petition under SB 1437 for a client who was convicted of robbery and murder but was not the actual killer. Upon resentencing, the court ordered the client to be released from prison.

The client was convicted of crimes associated with a shooting in 1994. Although he was 17, he faced charges in adult court. Now in his 40s, the client has spent most of his adult life in prison. He has made great strides to rehabilitate himself and gain an education what will enable him to contribute to society upon release.

This client qualified for resentencing under Senate Bill (SB) 1437, which was passed in 2018 to update P.C. 1170.95. This law limits who can be prosecuted for felony murder, which involves the killing of a victim while in the process of another felony offense. Under SB 1437, individuals who were not the actual killer or did not ai and abet the unlawful killing with malice may be granted resentencing relief.

While Spolin Law’s client did participate in a robbery in the 1990s, he was not armed, nor was he the shooter. He waited until all patrons left the building before entering it. He had no reason to believe anyone would be harmed in the process of the robbery. The felony murder that occurred was not his intent, nor is he guilty of aiding and abetting the actual killer with malice. In fact, he actively worked to limit the risk to patrons at the establishment.

“Our client was convicted of a crime that he did not commit. His actions to avoid harm to others were rightfully considered by the court when deciding whether resentencing was appropriate. Now our client will be released and return to his family,” said award-winning post-conviction attorney Aaron Spolin, who leads Spolin Law P.C.

Spolin Law drafted a P.C. 1170.95 petition pointing out all the arguments that were favorable to their client. The prosecution was tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the client was not available for resentencing. In the end, they could not, and the court granted the P.C. 1170.95 petition under SB 1437, which resulted in release of the client.

After more than 25 years in prison, Spolin Law’s client will now be released to return to his family.

To learn more about SB 1437 and P.C. 1170.95 petitions, you should reach out to the post-conviction attorneys or staff members at Spolin Law P.C. We handle state and federal criminal appeals and post-conviction matters. We will evaluate your case and help you understand your options. Call us today at (866) 716-2805.

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Spolin Law Client Gets Sentence Reduced Through SB 1437 Relief

Published on December 22, 2022

A Spolin Law P.C. client’s prison sentence was recently reduced to only four years after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and being sentenced to 16 years.

The client pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in a case where he admitted he “aided and abetted the unlawful killing of the victim without malice.” Since the client was not the actual killer and did not act with malice aforethought, he qualified for relief under Senate Bill (SB) 1437.

SB 1437 allows for resentencing consideration for inmates who were convicted of certain types of murder but were not the actual killer. They must not have acted with the intent to kill. They cannot have been a major participant in the crime or have acted with reckless indifference for human life. The client met all those requirements.

Spolin Law P.C. filed a strong application for SB 1437 relief, pointing out that there were many faults in the client’s case. For example, he was accused of being a gang member; however, the prosecution’s gang expert had never heard of the alleged gang and had never met the client personally. Thus, it was unlikely that the client acted purposefully for the benefit of this alleged gang.

Once the SB 1437 application was granted and the client’s sentence was to be reconsidered, attorney Don Nguyen began the complex task of negotiating with the prosecutor. The state often does not want to admit defeat, so it can be hard to get a lower sentence. However, attorney Nguyen was able to get a new plea offer of a lesser charge with a new sentence of four years.

“This case is a striking example of overreach by the prosecution and California prosecutors using gang membership to vicariously incarcerate other gang members who had no culpability in another gang member’s crime,” said award-winning post-conviction attorney Aaron Spolin, who leads Spolin Law.

Instead of sitting in prison for the next decade, this Spolin Law P.C. client will be released in 2025.

To speak with one of the attorneys or staff members at Spolin Law P.C. about SB 1437 or your case, please call us at (310) 409-4453. Our firm handles state and federal criminal appeals and post-conviction matters.

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Family Didn’t Expect Anything; Instead, They Won Their Son’s Freedom

Published on December 14, 2022
The first page of one of the filings that Spolin Law made as part of its winning motion for resentencing | Family Didn’t Expect Anything; Instead, They Won Their Son’s Freedom (Blog Post Featured Document)

The above document is the first page of one of the filings that Spolin Law made as part of its winning motion for resentencing.

This morning, members of the Spolin Law staff gave a tour of the office to a former client and his family. It was a surprising and exciting finale of a hard-fought criminal appeal. The client had been condemned to spend his life in prison; however, the firm won the client’s freedom earlier this year, on October 2, 2022.

Spolin Law successfully overturned the client’s murder conviction, resulting in the client’s release. The actual winning petition that the firm submitted, case PA013483, is viewable here.

The client had not intended to physically harm anyone, but due to the overly-broad manner that murder was defined in the law, he had been convicted of murder and was serving time in Centinela State Prison.

After over a year of litigation, Judge David Walgren of the San Fernando courthouse ruled in favor of the client. In doing so, he agreed with the arguments of Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin, Caitlin Dukes, and Don Nguyen, who represented the client through written submissions and in-court arguments.

In 1993, the client had been pressured into accepting a plea deal of 26-years-to-life. He anticipated serving his time and then getting released on parole. But in a cruel turn of events, the client was repeatedly denied parole, including in 2010, 2013, and 2020. A 26-year sentence seemed to transform into a lifetime residence at Centinela Prison.

In early 2021, the client’s family decided to make one last attempt to win their son’s freedom. As the client’s brother, Wilson, described it: “We never expected anything to come of it [the appeal]. We just hired the firm so we would not regret having tried nothing. I wanted to say to myself that we did everything we could.” So when Spolin Law actually won his brother’s freedom, it came as a complete surprise.

Standing in the firm’s busy mailroom on West Olympic Boulevard, Wilson spoke emotionally of the first few days after his brother was released: “Every day for those first three days I would wake up and see him in my house and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was in shock. I never thought anything would come of this.”

Spolin Law staff member Michael Alfi was present at the celebratory meeting. Mr. Alfi is the firm’s Mailroom Manager, and he described how he had remembered receiving mail from the client throughout the course of the representation. “You were a name on an envelope, on a letter. I knew you were a real person but all I personally saw was the mail you sent,” Mr. Alfi said. “Now it’s wonderful to actually meet you.”

The client now lives with his parents, taking care of them while preparing to apply for a job to rejoin the workforce.

For more questions about this or other similar cases, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (866) 716-2805.

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Spolin & Dukes Attorneys to Give Holiday Gift of $1,000 to Five Current and Former Clients

Published on December 1, 2022

***UPDATE: November 24, 2023: The below blog post is from last year, December 2022. However, law firm partners Aaron Spolin and Caitlin Dukes will be funding this year’s version of the holiday gift program, which will apply from November 27th, 2023 to December 31st, 2023. ***

In the spirit of the holidays, the lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. will be donating $1,000 to five of the firm’s current and former clients ($1,000 per client). These donations will go to the first five clients retaining the firm for an appeal during this holiday season.

Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin walking together

Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin are two of the Spolin Law attorneys participating in the firm’s 2022 holiday gift program.

“The holidays can be a hard time for inmates, especially those who are sitting in prison wrongfully convicted or who have families struggling to take the next step in fighting an unjust conviction,” said attorney Aaron Spolin. “Many current or former clients have opportunities to fight their case; we are hoping that these donations will help them achieve their goals.”

Another attorney echoed this sentiment: Jeremy Cutcher frequently finds himself on the phone with the firm’s California inmates. “This is a hard holiday season because of the economy, because of Covid, you name it. Helping people achieve hope and a positive outlook is crucial.”

The attorneys donating include, in alphabetical order, Jeremy Cutcher, Dan DeMaria, Caitlin Dukes, Annette Gifford, Don Nguyen, Angela Reaney, and Aaron Spolin. (All listed attorneys are admitted in at least one federal court, and some of the attorneys are admitted in various state courts where the firm practices.)

This donation will either come in the form of a credit on the client’s account (reducing legal fees) or a payment made directly to the client or person of the client’s choosing (for clients where no further legal fees are owed).


Further questions about the holiday gift program may be directed to the firm’s case managers, who can be reached at (310) 424-5816.

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What Is Prosecutorial Misconduct?

Published on November 21, 2022

Video Transcript:

Prosecutorial misconduct can result in a criminal conviction being overturned. I’m a criminal appeals lawyer and I handle these types of cases. Essentially, prosecutorial misconduct is when the prosecutor commits misconduct, and what that means is when the prosecutor violates one of the rules about how there are certain rights defendants have. There are rules about what prosecutors are supposed to do and the rights that defendants have in a criminal case.

Some common examples of prosecutorial misconduct, things that have happened in prior cases and have resulted in convictions being overturned: One example is if the prosecutor is personally vouching for the truth of certain witnesses, trying to convince the jury that the prosecutor somehow knows who’s telling the truth and who isn’t telling the truth. Another example of prosecutorial misconduct that could overturn a conviction is what’s called a “Brady violation”, which means not turning over important evidence to the defense, evidence of innocence, evidence of how a witness has a criminal record or has a record showing that they are untrustworthy. That is considered a Brady violation. Another example of prosecutorial misconduct is when the prosecutor asks improper questions during cross-examination. For example, when cross-examining the defendant, ask questions to the defendant that are irrelevant to the case and would prejudice the jury. For example, asking questions about the defendant’s religious status if it has nothing to do with the case and it is solely to inflame the passions of the jury. Another example is if the prosecutor misstates the facts deliberately in front of the jury in an effort to sway them and get a guilty verdict in a way that is inconsistent with the facts. There are many, many other ways that prosecutors can commit misconduct.

Prosecutors are supposed to be agents of the court. They are supposed to be trustworthy, reliable. Our Criminal Justice System relies on their honesty and them doing the right thing. And so, in the cases that I’ve cited where the prosecutors have done the wrong thing, in any case where the prosecutor commits misconduct, that could be a basis for overturning the conviction. There are different types of appeals for trying to challenge prosecutorial misconduct. One common type of appeal is a direct appeal after a trial and conviction about what happened on the record. Another common type of appeal is called a writ of habeas corpus which is often about things that are not on the record. There is also a federal writ of habeas corpus about violations of federal rights. Many different types of appeals, but essentially prosecutors have a duty to uphold the law and to follow the law and make sure the defendants’ rights are protected.

If you have any questions about prosecutorial misconduct on a case that you’ve been following, you’re welcome to call me. I’d be happy to speak with you or have another member of my firm speak with you. Thank you. Take care.

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What Is Oral Argument in an Appeal?

Published on November 21, 2022

Video Transcript:

Oral argument is an element of many different types of appeals. I’m criminal appeals lawyer. I’ve done oral arguments many times and I’ll explain to you what they involve. Essentially, an oral argument is the opportunity near the end of an appeal to explain and answer questions that judges might have about the case. Now, to understand more about oral arguments, it is helpful to understand how appeals usually progress.

Appeals are almost all written documents. The defense counsel, the appeals defense lawyer, will argue how a person’s rights have been violated in the criminal case for example. Then the government may respond with their own written document, and often, then the defense has a chance to respond again. So, it’s almost all written but at the very end, here’s an opportunity for this oral argument.

Now, there are a few key points about oral argument. Number one is, you’re not allowed to bring up new arguments that you had not already raised in the written documents. You can’t bring up new arguments. The second thing that’s important to know is that this is often an opportunity for judges to ask questions about the case. Sometimes, judges are on the fence about how they want to rule, and if that’s the case, they will ask hard questions to both sides about hypothetical situations, about other case law to help the judges to make their decision.

But the third piece of information about oral argument is very important, which is that often it is not needed and not particularly helpful. In many cases, all of the arguments are clearly laid out in the written documents. Now sometimes, judges will ask for oral argument because they have particular questions, but oftentimes the written documents themselves, that’s enough. It explains the issue, it explains the arguments, it gives the examples, it cites the law, it cites the facts of the case. So, oral argument doesn’t need to happen in every single case.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any other questions about oral argument or criminal appeals in general, you’re welcome to call me or call somebody else in my firm. Thank you. Take care.

Categories: Uncategorized

Do You Get a Free Lawyer for a Criminal Appeal?

Published on November 20, 2022

Video Transcript:

You are entitled to a lawyer when you appeal a criminal case, but the question is, are you entitled to the government to pay for your lawyer? There are certain types of appeals where the government will pay for a lawyer to represent you. The most common example is after you’ve been convicted after a trial, typically, the government will then select and appoint a lawyer to represent you. Either the court will select a lawyer or there will be a list of eligible lawyers for the government to pay to represent you during an appeal. Those types of appeals, you do get a free lawyer.

You’re also welcome to hire a private lawyer. I actually do private criminal appeals for clients all over the country, all over the state. So, you’re entitled to a free lawyer in that type of case. There are other cases where you’re, generally speaking, not entitled to a lawyer. For example, if you plead guilty and then decide you want to appeal for some reason, maybe there was a problem with the guilty plea. Typically, you’re not automatically entitled to a lawyer in that case, only in rare circumstances. Other types of appeals, you’re not entitled to a free government-paid lawyer, although you could get your own private lawyer. For example, a writ of habeas corpus. That’s a type of appeal where the government will only choose to give you a lawyer for free, so to speak, if you make out certain arguments, if it looks like your writ of habeas corpus is likely to be granted or has very strong arguments.

So, it’s almost like a catch-22. You have to do a great job in articulating why you have a strong case and only then, would the government agree to provide you with a lawyer. Many people therefore choose to hire a private lawyer for a writ of habeas corpus. There are other types of appeals, really, “post-conviction relief” that aren’t technically appeals where you are not entitled to a lawyer paid for by the government, but you could get your own private lawyer. An example is an “application for commutation of sentence”. That’s an application to the governor’s office or it could be to the president’s office asking for a sentence to be cut short.

There are other types of character-based applications where typically, you do not have a lawyer provided for you by the government. You have to hire your own if you want a lawyer or you can just do something yourself if you want to represent yourself. Hope that answers your question. Many times, you are entitled to a free government lawyer, not of your own choosing, but of the court’s choosing or the government’s choosing, and generally speaking in all appeals, you are entitled to choose your own private lawyer if you do want to hire private lawyer.

If you have questions about criminal appeals, you’re welcome to call me. I’d be happy to speak with you or have someone else in my firm speak with you. Thank you. Take care.

Categories: Uncategorized

What Is an Opening Brief in an Appeal?

Published on November 20, 2022

Video Transcript:

What is an opening brief? An opening brief is generally speaking, the first document explaining why an appeal is appropriate, and why a conviction should be overturned, or a lower court’s decision should be overturned. The opening brief is usually created after the record from the court is created. So first, the record is created in the court and then whoever is appealing will file an opening brief; a document essentially, saying here is how the judge made an improper decision or here is how my client’s rights were violated. An opening brief will describe all that.

After that, the government will have an opportunity or the opposing party will have an opportunity to reply, usually a respondent’s brief, and then there was often a reply where the person who is appealing has the last word and can say, well, the respondents brief was wrong, and here is why. So, the opening brief though, is the first primary document explaining why an appeal is appropriate, why a lower court’s decision should be overturned.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions about opening briefs, call me, I’d be happy to chat with you or have another lawyer in my firm speak with you. Thank you.

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