Spolin Law P.C. Announces 2019 Winner of Civil Rights and Criminal Law Essay Competition & ScholarshipPublished on March 24, 2020
Spolin Law P.C. is proud to announce the winner of their 2019 Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship. The Spolin Law P.C. team has chosen Meena Venkataramanan, who will receive a $1,000 scholarship to use toward tuition and other educational expenses.
Created in 2017, the Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship was developed to support students whose work brings awareness to civil rights issues. This falls in line with the firm’s overarching goals of representing individuals whose rights have been violated and protecting each person’s right to be treated with dignity.
Meena Venkataramanan was chosen as the 2019 winner for her impressive curriculum vitae, the scope of her work as a writer and editor, and her leadership initiatives. Ms. Venkataramanan is working toward an A.B. in English and South Asian Studies, with a secondary focus in Government. She will matriculate in May 2021. In addition to writing and editing for The Harvard Advocate, ABC News, and The Harvard Crimson, Ms. Venkataramanan also serves in several organizational leadership roles. She is the founder of Stories from the Border and the founder/president of Harvard South Asian Americans in Public Service (SAAPS) Initiative.
Ms. Venkataramanan’s essay, titled “The Spirit of Our Constitution,” explores troubling ties between the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the current political climate of the United States. Throughout the essay, she points to legal decisions that have upheld the rights of Americans and draws attention to missteps of the American legal system. Her essay explores the fallout of decisions that take away Americans’ rights and considers the future of the democracy if the values described in the Constitution are not upheld.
In “The Spirit of Our Constitution,” Ms. Venkataramanan draws parallels between recent counterterrorism efforts and the internment of Japanese-Americans. After describing the reparations made by the United States government to its Japanese-Americans, she writes, “However, to many Japanese-Americans, the scars caused by such brutal and unjustified treatment in the name of national security are truly indelible, and the federal government’s recent counterterrorism efforts are painful reminders of such maltreatment.”
Our team of Los Angeles criminal appeals attorneys looks forward to seeing how leaders like Ms. Venkataramanan, her peers, and other scholarship applicants will preserve the values of the Constitution and support human rights in coming years. We firmly believe that the future of America will be built by compassionate individuals and civil rights leaders.
The Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship aims to encourage students from different fields to apply.
Spolin Law Overturns Second Defective Murder Conviction Within Six-Month SpanPublished on March 19, 2020
Spolin Law achieved justice on another case a few weeks ago when the firm’s attorneys successfully overturned a murder conviction for an innocent client who had been convicted of murder. This was the second overturned murder conviction the firm has achieved within the past six months for different clients. (To see info about previous successful cases, visit the Awards & Media section of the Spolin Law website).
The client had been convicted of first-degree murder (Penal Code 187), attempted murder (Penal Code 664/187) and robbery with a gun enhancement (Penal Code 211) in 2004 and had been in state custody since his arrest in 2002. Since that time, he has attempted to appeal his conviction multiple times and with different attorneys. He hired Spolin Law to handle the most recent (and successful) petition several months ago. The firm’s appeals attorneys who handled his case included former prosecutor Aaron Spolin, Of Counsel attorney Matthew Barhoma, and former prosecutor Caitlin Dukes. Ms. Dukes conducted the oral argument for Spolin Law based on the firm’s written submission. Attorney Winston McKesson, the client’s long-time personal lawyer, was also present and provided valuable assistance that aided the firm’s written submission and oral argument on the matter.
The client’s murder conviction was defective for a number of reasons. First, the client—who was 15 years old at the time—was not actually present at the scene of the crime. He was convicted due to his partial fingerprint being on the car at the scene of the crime and an eyewitness describing one of the teenage robbers having “an afro.” After the conviction occurred, the eyewitness clarified that she had not actually seen the client at the crime scene. The second fault in the murder conviction resulted from the fact that the client was convicted under the “felony murder” theory that has since been removed from the law books. Specifically, the client was convicted of “murder” because the old law stated that a person could be convicted of murder even if they participated in a felony and during the course of this felony a person unintentionally died. Under the old law, a person could have been guilty of murder even if they did not want to physically harm anyone and had no idea that a death would occur. The court relied on this second line of argument to strike the murder conviction.
Superior Court Judge James Otto, in overturning the murder conviction, determined that the client was not a “major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life.” This determination was the primary point of argument for the lawyers on the case. (Please note that prior successful outcomes do not guarantee a similar result on a future case).
The above photo was taken at the Spolin Law office where some of the team members celebrated the client’s release and gave him a $300 Men’s Warehouse gift certificate (a firm tradition) to help his professional advancement. The client was present with his wife, who had never lost faith in him throughout the seventeen years, five months, and two days of his jail and prison time. She—and the client—had lost multiple other appeals, but they never gave up. In the end, the client won his freedom and can now start his life anew. He already has a job giving lectures and presentations about wrongful convictions and how to live a crime-free life.
To speak with one of the attorneys at Spolin Law about this case or any other criminal law matter, please call us at (866) 716-2805. The firm handles state and federal post-conviction matters.
California Appeals: How Long Does an Appeal Take?Published on February 19, 2020
If you are interested in appealing your criminal conviction, it is important to understand the timeline of the process. An appeal can take anywhere from a few months to years depending on the unique factors involved. But, in every case and appeal needs to be filed quickly. However, the decision will not be immediate.
You should talk with a Los Angeles appeals lawyer at Spolin Law P.C. regarding the California appeals timeline. This can give you realistic expectations of what to expect.
Appeal Filing Deadline
The first step in a criminal appeal is determining if you are eligible. Immediately after a conviction sentencing, you should speak to an attorney about an appeal.
Your lawyer will carefully review your case for legal errors. If there is evidence that a mistake of law was made during your trial or sentencing, then you have a valid reason to file an appeal.
Next, you must determine if you want to appeal.
If so, you need to file a Notice to Appeal in the superior court. For felonies, you have 60 days to file a notice of appeal in a criminal case from the date the judgment was entered. For misdemeanors, this deadline is only 30 days.
There are other types of post-conviction relief that can be filed after the 60-day or 30-day window, including a California Writ of Habeas Corpus and an Application for Commutation of Sentence. However, traditional or “direct appeals” must be filed within this deadline.
Can You File an Appeal Late?
There are very few reasons why a California court will give you more time to file an appeal. There are possible extensions under the 2018 California Rules of Court, which allows for more time following public emergencies.
You might have grounds for an extension if your trial attorney failed to perform a duty related to a possible appeal. A common example is if your attorney neglected to inform you of your right to appeal. Basically, if you were not informed of your right to appeal, and did not learn of the right until after the filing deadline, call a Los Angeles appeals lawyer right away.
Another possible failure is not filing a timely notice of appeal after you asked your attorney to do so. In this situation, contact Spolin Law P.C. right away to get new representation.
You may also consider an extension for constructive filing. This occurs when you make a good faith attempt to file your notice of appeal, but it is not received in time. For instance, you may represent yourself initially and file in the wrong court. Or, you may ask your jail or prison officials to mail your notice of appeal, and it was mailed or arrived late.
You May Need a Certificate of Probable Cause
If you entered a guilty or nolo contendere plea, admitted to a probation violation, or convicted after an unlawful search and seizure, then you must also file a certificate of probable cause. This states that the trial was unlawful in some way. This is a written statement that you or your attorney provide under oath.
You must deliver the statement to the trial court, which issues the certificate. The trial court has 20 days to deny or approve your request for a certificate of probable cause.
What Happens After Filing a Notice to Appeal
Once you file the Notice to Appeal, the other parties must be notified. The superior court clerk will send a notification of the filing to each parties’ attorney, any unrepresented defendant, the reviewing court clerk, and to each court reporter.
Within 10 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, you must file a Notice of Designating Record on Appeal.
The court reporter is notified because they must prepare the transcript. If there was not a court reporter, the court creates a transcript from the electronic records of the proceedings. Additionally, you may obtain a clerk’s transcript. This encompasses all of the materials collected and placed in the case file during the proceeding.
Filing Your Opening Brief
After the initial appeal paperwork is filed and the trial court record is compiled, you must submit an opening brief. This brief is prepared by your appeals lawyer and can be lengthy.
The brief provides a summary of the trial, asks for a certain outcome, and provides a supporting argument.
For cases in the Court of Appeal, your opening brief must be filed within 40 days after the record is filed. The respondent’s brief must be filed within 30 days of your opening brief. Then, you have 20 days to file a reply brief to the respondent’s brief.
Oral Arguments for the Appeal
After the briefs are filed, the next step is oral arguments. The court will notify you of the hearing date. This may be weeks after the briefs are filed. It depends on the court’s schedule.
Oral arguments allow your lawyer to argue your grounds for an appeal to the judge in person. Depending on the court in which your appeal takes place, your attorney may have up to 30 minutes to make your case. During this time, your attorney may also answer questions from the appellate court judge.
Have Questions About an Appeal in CA? Contact Spolin Law P.C.
Interested in appealing your criminal case? Contact Spolin Law P.C. right away. Aaron Spolin was previously a prosecutor and an award-winning criminal defense and appeals attorney.
Criminal Appeals: Can I Appeal a Juvenile Verdict?Published on February 6, 2020
California has an alternative criminal justice system for minors. While the proceedings still take place in court, they are not the same as in a criminal trial.
Juveniles charged with crimes must go through several hearings. The last of these hearings is called a disposition hearing. That is when the judge makes the final decision about a juvenile’s fate. It’s a lot like the sentencing phase of a criminal trial.
Similar adults, a juvenile can appeal this final decision.
When Should Juveniles Appeal?
Since the juvenile justice system’s goal is rehabilitation rather than punishment, juvenile offenders do not have the same incentives to appeal.
However, there are scenarios when a judge’s disposition should be reversed. If the young offender is innocent, if their rights were violated, or if the court order is unacceptable, a criminal appeals lawyer can and should appeal the judge’s decision.
The Juvenile Appeals Process
Before filing a formal appeal in a juvenile case, it’s necessary to outline the different stages of the juvenile criminal justice process. At each stage, there are opportunities to contest. And in some cases, ask for a new hearing on certain issues.
The California juvenile justice process involves the following:
When a minor is arrested, their fate is initially decided by a probation officer. Depending on the crimes’ severity, a juvenile may simply be released on probation. The officer may also order the youth to be detained and recommend that the District Attorney (DA) file formal charges.
When the minor his detained, or when the DA files criminal charges, a hearing will determine whether detention should continue, or if the juvenile should be detained until the next hearing.
At this stage, a Los Angeles juvenile defense lawyer can contest the the DA’s petition and present evidence. If they are unsatisfied with the result, they can request a new hearing.
In some cases, the DA may request that the juvenile be tried as an adult. For very serious crimes, there is no need for a fitness hearing because adult charges are mandatory.
During this hearing, the DA will present evidence as to why the minor should be treated as an adult. Of course, the defense can argue why the case should stay in the juvenile system. This is an extremely important stage of the process because appealing this decision is very difficult.
If the case stays within the juvenile system, the next stage is the jurisdiction hearing. Like in a criminal trial, this hearing’s purpose is to determine what actually happened. Both sides are allowed to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. However, the facts will not be decided by a jury. If the judge determines that the available evidence points to the juvenile’s guilt, the case will move to the next stage.
During this part of the process, the focus is not only on how to punish a juvenile but also on how to treat or rehabilitate them. Another important difference is that a judge can decide to “set aside” or cancel the decision about jurisdiction. In other words, the verdict can be canceled if their legal team is successful at this stage. If not, the judge will determine the conditions of detention and probation.
How Can I Appeal My Child’s Verdict?
There are three ways to appeal a juvenile case. First, and while it’s not a formal appeal, your lawyer should try to get a new hearing if the judge rules against your child at the detention phase.
Second, if the judge rules that your child should be treated like an adult, you may file a writ with the Court of Appeals. This isn’t a formal appeal either, but it can delay the process and keep the case in the juvenile system.
Third, you can file an official appeal within 60 days of the disposition hearing. As with a criminal case, your appeal must show that a legal mistake hurt your son’s or daughter’s case.
There are many possible arguments to make in favor of an appeal. A lawyer may argue that evidence was improperly included or rejected, or that the authorities violated your child’s rights at any point during the process.
A California Juvenile Lawyer Can Help
When a minor faces criminal charges, their future hangs in the balance. With so much at stake, these cases require quick, thorough, and aggressive action from the defense.
If you or a loved one received a bad result after a juvenile disposition hearing, you must act fast if you want to appeal.
Aaron Spolin’s Book, Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials, is Admitted to United States Library of Congress.Published on February 4, 2020
This past month the United States Library of Congress admitted into its collection Witness Misidentification in Criminal Trials: Reforming Identification Procedures to Protect the Innocent. The book, written by criminal appeals attorney Aaron Spolin, discusses the dangers of witness misidentification, which is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the county.
The book summary detailed on the back cover is copied below:
Witness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States. Among former death-row inmates proven innocent by post-trial DNA evidence, more than half of their cases involved a mistaken eyewitness identification. And the problem is not limited to death-row inmates: a comprehensive 2012 study by Marvin Zalman, a professor of criminal procedure, concludes that up to 2,000 individuals are wrongfully convicted of felonies each year. Combating witness misidentification is perhaps the biggest step we can take to fight his injustice. This book discusses the problems of witness identification, shows how identification procedures contribute to faulty convictions, and suggests reforms that would drastically reduce the potential for misidentification. Aaron Spolin is an award-winning criminal appeals attorney and former prosecutor. He leads Spolin Law P.C., a firm that handles criminal appeals, writs, and post-conviction relief.
The book, which has a Library of Congress Control Number of 2019-919901, can be purchased at major booksellers, including here at Amazon
For more information about wrongful convictions or to speak with one of the attorneys at Spolin Law about a particular case, call us at (310) 424-5816.
Can You Appeal a Conviction if You Plead Guilty?Published on January 29, 2020
Most criminal cases end when the accused enters a negotiated guilty plea to specific charges. Unfortunately, many people who are completely innocent of wrongdoing end up pleading guilty because they don’t believe they can prove their innocence in court.
However, if you or a loved one pled guilty to a crime despite being innocent, the fight is not necessarily over. You can still file an appeal after a guilty plea, but you will need to demonstrate that the plea itself was not “knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.”
The window for filing an appeal is very short, and there are few exceptions. For this reason, if you are considering an appeal, you need to act immediately. Your lawyer will only have a few weeks to review your case file and show cause to file an appeal after a guilty plea.
With extensive appeals experience and a record of overturning unjust convictions, at Spolin Law P.C., we are ready to help you file an appeal today. Call us at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation about your case.
Appeal Options After a Guilty Plea
In most cases, a defendant will enter a plea of guilty after reaching an agreement with the prosecutor. This plea agreement will usually contain provisions waiving your right to appeal on certain issues.
The provisions are binding, but in some exceptional cases a judge may be willing to allow an appeal to proceed even if you’ve waived your right to do so.
In general, an appeal filed after a guilty plea might raise the following:
- The defendant was lied to about the consequences of the plea by his lawyer.
- The defendant was under mental impairment when he/she took the plea.
- The defendant was not informed of certain rights by the court.
- There were other similar issues that relate to the validity of the plea itself.
It’s important to note that you cannot present new evidence in an appeal. The point of an appeal is for the appeals court to check that the trial court gave you a fair proceeding based on the evidence available at the time. Nor can you challenge a guilty plea conviction after based on an improper suppression of evidence, police or prosecutorial misconduct, or if a harsh sentence was issued.
So if you pleaded guilty to a crime, and then later learn of some new exculpatory evidence, your best option may be to file a writ of habeas corpus.
New California Laws Can Reduce Sentences after a Guilty Plea
Recent changes to California law make it easier for people to obtain sentence reductions after a guilty plea. These do not involve overturning the case but, rather, involve asking for a reduced sentence based on a new law or based on the behavior of the client after conviction.
Senate Bill 1437 changed the state’s definition of felony murder, so that only a major participant in the underlying felony can be convicted of murder for a death that resulted from that felony. The bill specifically allows people who pleaded guilty to receive a reduction or cancellation of their felony murder sentence.
Another law, Senate Bill 2942 actually allows you to by-pass the appeals process to obtain a modification or cancellation of your sentence. This law gives District Attorneys the possibility of requesting a resentencing hearing if they believe your sentence doesn’t serve the interests of justice. Additionally, you may file a petition to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and request a resentencing.
How a California Appeals Lawyer Can Help
If you felt compelled to plead guilty to a crime that you did not commit or that you entered an invalid guilty plea, you may still have options. California law gives you the option of withdrawing your guilty plea, appealing your conviction, pursuing a writ of habeas corpus, or petitioning the CDCR for a resentencing hearing. Regardless of what remedy best applies to your case, the assistance of an experienced appeals lawyer will be essential.
For a free consultation about your options after pleading guilty to a crime, call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation.
Spolin Law Hires Former Prosecutor Caitlin Dukes to Join Criminal Appeals PracticePublished on January 22, 2020
Spolin Law is happy to announce the hiring of Caitlin Dukes, a former prosecutor with a background working on both sides of the criminal courtroom.
Ms. Dukes, a former Deputy District Attorney, also has experience working in federal and state courts, including for Federal District Court Judge James Knoll Gardner and for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge J. Michael Eakin. Prior to working in the courts, she spent time working for the United States Department of Homeland Security, assisting in the implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 8 for National Preparedness under President Barack Obama.
As a prosecutor, Ms. Dukes handled hundreds of felony and misdemeanor criminal cases, including multiple jury trials. She brings to Spolin Law her experience described above, as well as other experience working on the defense side, representing wrongfully accused criminal defendants as an Assistant Public Defender and then as a successful private defense attorney.
Ms. Dukes is admitted to practice law in California, New York, and Pennsylvania.
For more information about Ms. Dukes or any of the attorneys at Spolin Law, call our office at (310) 424-5816.
Will I Be Released if I Win My Appeal?Published on January 17, 2020
If you’ve been convicted of a crime in California, filing an appeal could be your key to freedom. But the process isn’t as straightforward as you may think. One of the most common questions we get from our clients is: “Will I be released if I win my appeal?”
Unfortunately, the answer is often no. Although it is possible to obtain a provisional release from prison or jail while the appeal is pending, the final appeal order doesn’t usually make release permanent. In most cases, the appeal will order the trial court to give you a new trial or sentencing hearing–and if you’re successful in those proceedings, you can be permanently released from incarceration.
The appeals process moves fast in California. The success of an appeal typically depends on your lawyer’s ability to identify a serious error in your trial, quickly develop a legal argument in your favor, and effectively present it to the appeals court.
At Spolin Law P.C., we are highly experienced criminal appeals lawyers and our team has a proven track record of success in the California appeals process. For a free consultation about your appeal options, call (310) 424-5816 today.
Can I Be Released While My Appeal Is Pending?
California law gives criminal defendants the right to request their release while their appeal is pending. This enables them to avoid the hardships of jail and to spend time with their family while the justice system ultimately decides their fate.
According to California Penal Code section 1272.1, a court must release you on bail if you and your attorney can provide evidence that:
- You are not likely to flee
- You are not a danger to other people or to the community, and
- The appeal raises a substantial legal issue
If the court grants your motion, they may temporarily release you on your own recognizance or set bail. If the bail they set is too high, your attorney can file a separate motion to request a lower amount. Succeeding in this motion is extremely important, because the appeals process can sometimes last up to two years.
A Successful Appeal Usually Results in a Retrial
The specific benefit you receive from a successful appeal depends on the legal arguments raised by your lawyers. The process and results will be significantly different depending on whether your lawyer files a standard appeal or a writ of habeas corpus. A habeas corpus petition will focus on obtaining your freedom directly, but an appeal is more complex.
Your appeal can result in the following outcomes:
- Denial — In this case, your initial trial verdict and judgement remain in place and you’ll have to serve the rest of your sentence.
Remand for retrial — If the appeals court concludes that the trial judge made a mistake in your case that caused an unfair disadvantage, they’ll order a new trial for you. This gives you a new chance to prove your innocence or to negotiate a better plea bargain.
- Remand for resentencing — If the prejudicial error happened at the sentencing stage, then the appeals court will order a new sentencing hearing. You cannot undo your criminal conviction, but you can argue for a more lenient sentence.
- Reversal and acquittal — In some cases, the appeals court may find that the evidence against you was legally insufficient for the judge or jury to find you guilty. In this case, the appeals court may reverse the judgement and vacate your conviction. This is the only scenario where an appeal directly results in your release.
Call a California Appeals Lawyer Today
If you want to learn more about the appeals process, you should act fast and call a California appeals lawyer. If you’ve been convicted of a crime, you only have a limited time to file an appeal. Once the deadline passes, you will typically not be able to file an appeal–although a lawyer may be able to file a writ of habeas corpus on your behalf. Winning the fight for your freedom after a conviction is never easy, but it can be done.
Call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation about reversing a California criminal conviction.
Firm Files Petition with United States Supreme Court on Noteworthy CasePublished on December 12, 2019
Spolin Law has filed a petition in the United States Supreme Court, in Washington D.C., on a noteworthy case that implicates major Constitutional issues.
The October 2019 filing, termed a petition for writ of certiorari, seeks to have the court accept the case and overturn the conviction of the firm’s client, whose rights were violated in the course of his trial. If the court rules on the side of client, the decision will affect criminal defendants throughout the United States in both state and federal courts.
The primary issue presented to the United States Supreme Court was whether an attorney for a criminal defendant may subsequently represent a witness against his former client. The issue relates to the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The Sixth Amendment, as interpreted by prior case law, guarantees criminal defendants the right to the “effective” assistance of a lawyer. An attorney whose representation falls below the standards articulated by the courts will be considered ineffective, thus violating the client’s Constitutional rights.
In the present case, a lawyer represented a criminal defendant while simultaneously representing a witness who was slated to testify against the defendant. Once the lawyer realized that he was representing both parties, he withdrew from representation of the defendant but continued to represent the witness. By that time the attorney had received hundreds of pages of discovery and had numerous confidential conversations with the defendant, including material that the witness could have used to conform his testimony to other evidence in order to make it more believable. The witness—a convict himself—had agreed to testify against the defendant in exchange for the prosecution’s dismissal of a separate attempted murder charge against the witness.
Aaron Spolin, who is admitted to practice in front of the United States Supreme Court, submitted the petition and is the primary attorney on the case.
To contact the firm about a criminal appeals or post-conviction matter, call us at (310) 424-5816.
Spolin Law’s Firm Manager, Dionne A. Parker, Wins the 2019 Client Service AwardPublished on December 5, 2019
Dionne A. Parker, Spolin Law P.C.’s law firm manager, has won the firm’s 2019 Client Service Award. The award, which comes with a $300 cash prize, was created to recognize members of the Spolin Law team who go above and beyond in their efforts to serve clients.
Numerous clients and other firm members have specifically singled out Ms. Parker for praise over the course of the past year. While she has a difficult workload—operating the administrative nerve center of the firm—she strives to make sure that each client knows how important his or her case is to the firm. This includes returning phone calls promptly, providing relevant case documents, communicating with court clerks and other agencies, and carrying out whatever other steps are necessary to assist the lawyers assigned to the case.
While Ms. Parker serves solely in a non-legal capacity at Spolin Law, she also happens to be a licensed attorney admitted to the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and United States Supreme Court bars.
Prior to joining Spolin Law, Ms. Parker served as an attorney at a prominent Washington D.C. law firm. She was also the Associate General Counsel for the National Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, an international nonprofit organization.
If you would like to nominate a firm member for the 2020 Client Service Award, please contact us via phone or email.
To learn more about the firm and the type of work we do, feel free to contact one of the firm’s attorneys at (310) 424-5816 or email@example.com.