Family Didn’t Expect Anything; Instead, They Won Their Son’s FreedomPublished on December 14, 2022
This morning, members of the Spolin Law staff gave a tour of the office to a former client and his family. It was a surprising and exciting finale of a hard-fought criminal appeal. The client had been condemned to spend his life in prison; however, the firm won the client’s freedom earlier this year, on October 2, 2022.
Spolin Law successfully overturned the client’s murder conviction, resulting in the client’s release. The actual winning petition that the firm submitted, case PA013483, is viewable here.
The client had not intended to physically harm anyone, but due to the overly-broad manner that murder was defined in the law, he had been convicted of murder and was serving time in Centinela State Prison.
After over a year of litigation, Judge David Walgren of the San Fernando courthouse ruled in favor of the client. In doing so, he agreed with the arguments of Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin, Caitlin Dukes, and Don Nguyen, who represented the client through written submissions and in-court arguments.
In 1993, the client had been pressured into accepting a plea deal of 26-years-to-life. He anticipated serving his time and then getting released on parole. But in a cruel turn of events, the client was repeatedly denied parole, including in 2010, 2013, and 2020. A 26-year sentence seemed to transform into a lifetime residence at Centinela Prison.
In early 2021, the client’s family decided to make one last attempt to win their son’s freedom. As the client’s brother, Wilson, described it: “We never expected anything to come of it [the appeal]. We just hired the firm so we would not regret having tried nothing. I wanted to say to myself that we did everything we could.” So when Spolin Law actually won his brother’s freedom, it came as a complete surprise.
Standing in the firm’s busy mailroom on West Olympic Boulevard, Wilson spoke emotionally of the first few days after his brother was released: “Every day for those first three days I would wake up and see him in my house and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was in shock. I never thought anything would come of this.”
Spolin Law staff member Michael Alfi was present at the celebratory meeting. Mr. Alfi is the firm’s Mailroom Manager, and he described how he had remembered receiving mail from the client throughout the course of the representation. “You were a name on an envelope, on a letter. I knew you were a real person but all I personally saw was the mail you sent,” Mr. Alfi said. “Now it’s wonderful to actually meet you.”
The client now lives with his parents, taking care of them while preparing to apply for a job to rejoin the workforce.
For more questions about this or other similar cases, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (866) 716-2805.
Spolin Law Attorneys to Give Holiday Gift of $1,000 to Five Current and Former ClientsPublished on December 1, 2022
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.
[UPDATE: December 6, 2022: As of today, the first two donations have been given to two current clients: Anthony Wilson, located at California State Prison, Solano, in Solano, California; and Alberto Espinoza, located at the Wayne Scott Unit in Richmond, Texas].
“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.
What Is Prosecutorial Misconduct?Published on November 21, 2022
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.
What Is Oral Argument in an Appeal?Published on November 21, 2022
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.
Do You Get a Free Lawyer for a Criminal Appeal?Published on November 20, 2022
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.
What Is an Opening Brief in an Appeal?Published on November 20, 2022
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.
What Is a Medical Reprieve of Sentence?Published on November 18, 2022
What is a medical reprieve of sentence? A medical reprieve of sentence is essentially a cutting short of a person’s sentence for medical reasons. I’m an appeals lawyer. I handle all types of executive clemency applications, and this is essentially what it is: You’re applying to the governor. You’re saying, this person has this medical condition, or this person is in danger because of their medical condition, or this person otherwise needs to be released from prison because of some medical-related circumstance.
Maybe they had a compromised immune system, maybe they’re very old and are diagnosed with some ailment, maybe they are an increased medical risk because of whatever medical condition they have due to the confined quarters of the prison. So, a medical reprieve of sentence is asking for the governor to cut short a person’s sentence based on their medical condition.
Now, generally speaking, it’s also helpful if they have good behavior in the prison, and if somebody is stabbing guards left and right, they’re not going to get any help from the governor. But it’s primarily focused on their medical condition and how it is fair and appropriate for them to get out of prison earlier than they would normally get out of prison in order for them to receive the medical treatment that they need or to be in a safer condition.
If you have any further questions about a medical reprieve of sentence, or anything else about criminal appeals, I’d be happy to speak with you. You’re welcome to call me or call one of the other lawyers at my firm. Thank you. Take care.
What Is a Commutation of Sentence? How to Win?Published on November 9, 2022
What is a commutation? A commutation of sentence? Well, I’m an appeals lawyer, a criminal appeals lawyer and I apply for commutations of sentence all the time for my clients. I’ll tell you what it is and I’ll tell you how to try to win them. What it is? It is a shortening of sentence from the governor or from the president. Every State’s Governor has certain executive privileges, and in most states the governor has the power to commute or cut short a person’s sentence. The United States President also has the power to commute or cut short a person’s sentence. Now, state governors have the power to commute sentences on state crimes. The president has the power to commute sentences on federal crimes. Most crimes are state crimes. Murder, robbery, attempted murder, shoplifting, all sorts of things, most of them are state crimes, and so, if someone’s been convicted of a crime, usually it’s a state rime. So, a commutation of sentence is a cutting short of that sentence so the person can get out of prison earlier.
The second question is how to win? How to win a commutation of sentence? And the main way to win is to show good character, show that the person deserves a commutation, deserves a shorter sentence. Most people who are commuted admit that they did the crime, and so, it’s not a question of whether they’re innocent or there’s a problem with their conviction, but rather they show good character, they show that they’re a person who deserves to be released early. They’ve done well, in the prison, they’ve been in programs in the prison, educational programs, rehab programs, they’ve helped other inmates and very importantly, often that they have a game plan for when they get out of prison. They can support what they’re saying, I want to work in a certain place and I have a job offer letter. I’ve family who say they’re going to house me, so I’m not going to be homeless in the streets. So, showing that the person morally deserves this and we’ll be able to reintegrate in society, that is really how to win a commutation application.
I hope this has been helpful if you have any questions about commutations or executive clemency or any other type of appeal, call me, I’d be happy to chat with you or have another lawyer in my firm speak with you. Thank you.
California AB 2799 — Excluding Use of Rap Lyrics Against DefendantPublished on October 6, 2022
Effective September 30, 2022, prosecutors will be limited in their ability to use rap lyrics against criminal defendants to show a propensity for violence or for committing crimes or as character evidence. The California “Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act,” AB 2799, amends evidence rules in criminal proceedings and gives judges direction on how to determine whether the “probative value” (whether the evidence establishes a fact relevant to the crime charged) of using artistic expression against the defendant outweighs the risk of prejudice and bias that can arise from the use of artistic expression, such as rap music, to prove that a person is guilty of a crime.
Although the Act is not limited to rap music, the motivation for passing the act was the increasing use of rap lyrics against defendant of color, which endorses stereotypes and increases the risk of juror bias against them.
Use of artistic expression against a defendant is not entirely prohibited, but its introduction is limited. A judge, in determining whether the probative value of the evidence outweighs the “substantial danger of undue prejudice,” must first recognize that the probative value of creative expression for its truth is minimal unless that expression meets specified conditions. While this does not create a presumption that the expression cannot be used, it is significant that the court must start its analysis with the fact that the value of using expression for “literal” truth is minimal.
The court is also required to consider the danger of bias against a defendant and must hear testimony (if offered) on the genre of creative expression, including the context of such expression, and on research demonstrating that the introduction of a particular type of expression introduces bias into the proceedings. Such testimony must be presented outside the presence of a jury to avoid potential prejudice.
Artistic expression may, however, sometimes be used as evidence of a defendant’s guilt, but only when the expression was “created near in time to the charged crime or crimes, bears a sufficient level of similarity to the charged crime or crimes, or includes factual detail not otherwise publicly available.”
AB 2799 is a victory for criminal defendants, especially rap musicians, in that it expressly limits the use of artistic expression to demonstrate the bad character of the defendant or to show that he or she has a propensity to commit violence or engage in crimes. Eliminating bias and stereotyping is crucial to a fair trial, and defendants have one more protection against the introduction of evidence against them that is unrelated to the underlying facts of the crime.
Spolin Law P.C. Seeks Compassionate Release for Clients After California AB 960 Becomes LawPublished on October 6, 2022
Recently passed California AB 960 gives inmates with serious illnesses and other medical conditions new opportunities for resentencing and compassionate release.
AB 960 attorney Aaron Spolin and his award-winning legal team are ready to file applications to seek compassionate release for clients. We know that you want to be home with your family, and our goal is to help you return to a more normal life. Call us today at a class=”ibp” title=”Call Spolin Law P.C. Today!” href=”tel:866-963-7561″>(866) 963-7561 to find out if you qualify for AB 960 relief.
What Is AB 960?
In a triumph for incarcerated persons who seek release from prison due to a serious medical condition, California passed Assembly Bill 960, effective September 29, 2022. Now, inmates with serious and advanced illnesses that have end-of-life trajectories and other serious medical conditions may be eligible for resentencing and compassionate release.
Who Is Eligible for Compassionate Release Under AB 960?
The old law allowed the release of prisoners only if they were diagnosed with a terminal illness likely to result in death within 12 months or if they required 24-hour care. Now, if an inmate has a serious and advanced disease or medical condition with an “end-of-life trajectory” or is found to be permanently medically incapacitated, they may be eligible for compassionate release.
Inmates no longer must prove that they require 24-hour total care requirement. Compassionate release is available for people with functional impairments resulting in the permanent inability to complete one or more activities of daily living as well as those with progressive dementia.
AB 960 Recall or Resentencing Process
A critical feature of the new law is that it requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to recommend recall or resentencing for someone who meets the medical criteria for resentencing. The law also requires that a hearing must be held within 10 days of the recommendation of the Department to avoid delays in release.
Presumption of Eligibility
The new law creates a presumption that a person who meets the medical criteria will be given compassionate release unless they pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
Right to Legal Counsel
Indigent incarcerated persons referred to the court for recall and resentencing under these provisions are entitled to appointed counsel to handle their hearings.
There may be some complications with the CDCR recommending inmates for resentencing and compassionate release. Further, prosecutors may claim compassionate release is inappropriate due to risk to public safety. It’s important that you work closely with a post-conviction relief attorney who can help you navigate the AB 960 hearings.
Contact an AB 960 Lawyer at Spolin Law P.C.
Compassionate release for serious medical conditions has long needed an overhaul. With the changes in the definition of medical conditions that qualify for resentencing and release and the new procedures for speeding the process along, more inmates who deserve compassionate release will be able to get it.
The award-winning legal team at Spolin Law P.C. is ready to file applications for resentencing and compassionate release under AB 960. Our lead attorney Aaron Spolin has extensive experience getting successful outcomes for clients like you. Call us today at (866) 963-7561 to learn more about your options for compassionate release under AB 960.