The Essentials of the Appellant’s BriefPublished on October 18, 2019
After a criminal conviction, you don’t have to give up. You have the right to appeal the judgment, and if successful, you may get your conviction overturned. But, keep in mind that the appeals process is difficult, and many who attempt it on their own fail–or miss critical deadlines. An appeal is not a new trial. You don’t present new evidence, the judges don’t hear testimony, and they don’t retry the case. Instead, the judges are there only to decide if some legal error occurred and if that legal error resulted in your unjust conviction or sentence.
For these reasons, you should seek the assistance of an experienced appellate lawyer. Reviewing trial transcripts, searching for potential errors, researching legal technicalities, and writing a convincing brief are skills best gained through consistent appeals experience. At Spolin Law P.C., our track record of success in the appeals process speaks for itself.
Call us today at (310) 424-5816 to schedule your consultation.
An Appellant’s Brief Must Show Harm by Error
At your trial, you were the defendant. But when you appeal your case, you become the appellant. The state becomes the respondent.
As the appellant, you are responsible for showing that your conviction or sentencing was negatively affected by a legal error, either during or before your trial. Your appeals lawyer will write a brief on your behalf to convince the appeals court that your trial was unfair.
The appellant’s brief must be thoroughly researched, clearly written, and meticulously presented. It should give the appellate court an overview of the case, single out the issues that harmed you, and provide reasons why these issues amounted to legal error.
Common grounds for appealing a criminal conviction include:
- The judge allowed the jury to hear evidence that it should not have
- The judge wrongly denied a pretrial motion to suppress evidence or to dismiss the charges
- The judge did not follow the sentencing guidelines or abused their discretion
- The jury considered factors other than those presented in reaching their verdict
- The jury convicted you even though the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime
- The jury engaged in misconduct during the trial or its deliberations
- The defense lawyer provided ineffective counsel
- The prosecutor acted unethically, such as hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense
If one of these errors applies to your case, but you can’t prove that it was prejudicial to you, the court will consider it a harmless error and deny your appeal. For example, you can’t get your conviction overturned just because the judge wrongly allowed one small piece of evidence into the case. You would need to show that this evidence was crucial to the jury’s decision to find you guilty.
The state, or respondent, will file their own brief to attack the arguments your lawyer raised in the appellant brief. Your lawyer has the option of filing a reply brief to address the respondent’s arguments. After an oral argument, where your lawyer and a lawyer for the state will answer questions from the appeals judges, the court will hand down a decision.
If the court grants your appeal, they may reverse the conviction, order a new trial, or schedule a new sentencing hearing. If the appeals court decides against you, you may still appeal to the California Supreme Court. But only cases that present novel or significant issues of law generally make it onto the Supreme Court’s docket.
A Southern California Appeals Lawyer Can Help
If you or a loved one have been unfairly convicted of a crime, it is time to consult with an appeals lawyer. But time is of the essence because you generally cannot file an appeal more than 60 days after the judgment.
Steps to Filing an Appeal on Someone’s BehalfPublished on October 8, 2019
When someone is convicted of a crime, it’s not necessarily the end of the road. You can file an appeal on their behalf. This is essentially asking a higher court to review the trial to ensure that no legal errors occurred. Although the process can take a long time–up to two years in some cases–you only have a short window to file a notice of appeal. For this reason, you should consult an appeals lawyer immediately after the trial court’s judgment is handed down.
At Spolin Law, P.C., we have helped many Californians challenge court rulings that would have resulted in lengthy prison sentences and crippling fines. Our experienced appeal lawyers know how to write effective appellate briefs and what it takes to advocate for the desired case outcome. If you or a loved one has been unfairly convicted of a crime, consider filing an appeal before it’s too late.
Call our California appeals attorneys today at (310) 424-5816 for a consultation.
How to Succeed in the Appeals Process
The hard truth is that few people succeed in having convictions or sentences overturned through the appeals process. Those who do succeed put every factor in their favor by hiring an experienced legal team and starting the process on time.
You will need a skilled attorney on your side to ensure that you properly navigate all of the following:
- Filing a notice of appeal–For misdemeanors, the appeal must be filed with the Appellate Division of the Superior Court no more than 30 days after the final judgment is entered–which is the sentencing hearing in a criminal case. For felonies, you have up to 60 days to file a notice of appeal with the California Court of Appeal. If you are appealing a federal conviction, you have 14 days to file the notice with the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit.
- Request release on bail–Since the appeals process is so long; most appellants try to get released on bail while awaiting the end of the process. The court may decide to release you on your own recognizance or make you pay a bond. In either case, your ability to travel will be limited while out on bail. If the court considers you to be a threat to public safety, or if they think you might run away, they will not allow your release on bail.
- Get the trial record–A strong appeal argument doesn’t present new evidence or a new angle on the case. It’s about showing that a legal error committed during the trial resulted in an unjust outcome. Your appeals lawyer must make all of their arguments based on the trial record, which includes all transcripts and motions from the trial proceedings. It’s also helpful to meet with the lawyer who represented the defendant at trial because they will have insight into the proceedings.
- Isolate and research the appealable issues–Based on the review of the case record and discussions with the trial defense team, your appeals lawyer will determine which issues to raise on appeal. Once the issues are isolated, they will need to conduct thorough legal research to get the strongest authority behind their argument. They will also need to anticipate what arguments the state will make and figure out ways to counter them.
- Write the appellate brief–Writing a strong appellate brief is as much a skill as it is an art. It must be clear and concise yet thorough enough to make a compelling and airtight argument. It should also anticipate and discredit the arguments the state might make in their brief. In addition to these substantial issues, the appellate brief must follow strict formatting requirements that cover everything from paper color to font size. After the state files the respondent brief, the appellate side has the option of filing a reply brief to rebut the state’s arguments.
- Prepare for and attend the oral argument–Most judges make up their mind on the case when they read the briefs. So by the time the oral argument comes around, they already know how they are going to vote. But the appellant must use this opportunity to convince any potentially undecided judges to vote in their favor. The things that may sway a jury at trial do not work at oral argument, where the advocate must carefully present and answer questions from the judges about legal theory.
After the oral arguments, the judges will write an opinion that contains their ruling on the appeal and the reasoning behind it. If the appeal is granted, they may vacate your conviction, or order a new trial or sentencing hearing. If they decide against you, you can still file another appeal to a higher court of review–either the California or United States Supreme Court–but these courts only take on cases that present new or significant problems of law.
Get Help with the Appeals Process Today
For many people, filing an appeal is their last chance to avoid years or even life behind bars. At Spolin law, P.C., we don’t take this responsibility lightly. We do everything in our power to successfully lead our cases through the appeals process. If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime, time is running out to file an appeal.
Call us today at (310) 424-5816 for your consultation.
Spolin Law Client Saved from Life Sentence; Staff Buys Client New SuitPublished on September 27, 2019
On Friday of last week a Spolin Law client won his right to freedom after months of advocacy by the firm.
The client had been in prison on a life sentence and would have most likely spent the rest of his life in prison. However, after Spolin Law filed, argued, and won a petition under new law SB 1437, Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe removed the life sentence, resulting in the client’s impending release.
Because of the client’s unique circumstances, members of the Spolin Law team decided to pitch in and pay for a new suit so that the client finds it easier to land a steady job after release from prison. The client had been incarcerated for approximately 26 years before he hired Spolin Law to fight for his release, and during that time he did not have access to computers and other modern technology that has become common in the modern workplace. Various members of the Spolin Law team had interacted with the client and his fiancé over the course of the representation. The idea of assisting the client came from a strong desire to help him be successful in this new phase of his life; release from prison is not the “end” of his story.
Firm members who contributed to the $250 Men’s Warehouse gift card include: Dionne A. Parker (firm manager), Marti Wise (case manager), Aaron Spolin (attorney), Matthew Barhoma (attorney), Alison Case (firm assistant manager), and Dan DeMaria (head of legal research).
Aaron Spolin and Matthew Barhoma were the primary attorneys involved in the representation of the client, which included multiple written submissions, extensive argument, and a half-day hearing in which the judge heard testimony. The central issues where whether (1) the new law allowing for dismissal of the client’s primary charge was constitutional, and (2) whether the individual client showed “reckless indifference to human life” such as to disqualify him from relief. The prosecutor argued against the client at every step of the way and sought to keep him in prison with the life sentence. Mr. Spolin and Mr. Barhoma won on both issues (constitutional and individual) and successfully obtained the dismissal of the life sentence. To read one of the court filings that Mr. Spolin had drafted, click here: Court Filing – Spolin Law PC – Reply Brief and Memorandum – 8-15-2019 – Redacted.
The client, who was present at last Friday’s hearing, was emotional upon hearing Judge Rappe’s ruling. After the sentence was read, he turned to the multiple family members and friends in the audience, who appeared equally ecstatic that he will now have his life back.
For further questions or to contact the firm about your own legal matter, please call (310) 424-5816.
What Makes Evidence Inadmissible?Published on August 21, 2019
In the United States, strict rules govern what evidence can be used in a trial. These restrictions apply equally to prosecutors and to the defense, and much of their time is spent fighting over what constitutes inadmissible evidence or admissible evidence. The judge decides what evidence may be admitted. Suffice it to say, criminal cases are often won and lost based on these evidentiary issues. So it’s essential that you have a criminal defense lawyer who is knowledgeable about the law of evidence, and will be able to use these rules in your favor.
At Spolin Law P.C., one of the most successful defense strategies we employ is the suppression of the prosecutor’s evidence. After essential evidence has been removed from the case, the prosecutor may not be in a position to prove your guilt. In some cases, the judge will even agree to dismiss the charges before your trial even starts. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you should retain a lawyer as soon as possible.
A Prosecutor Cannot Use Evidence That Was Obtained in Violation of Your Rights
In a criminal proceeding, the admission of evidence is governed by the rules of evidence, just like in a civil trial. For example, hearsay, or out-of-court statements used to prove the truth of the matter asserted, is not admissible unless it meets one of the limited exceptions to this rule. But in a criminal proceeding, the most important rules on the admission of evidence come from the United States Constitution. A criminal defense attorney can ask the judge to suppress any evidence that was obtained in violation of your constitutional rights.
Your lawyer can make a motion to suppress the evidence in the following scenarios:
You were subjected to an unreasonable search.
The police need your consent or a warrant if they want to enter your home and search for evidence. The warrant requirement has exceptions under limited emergency circumstances, such as when the police believe someone is in danger inside your home, they have reason to believe evidence is being destroyed, or they are in hot pursuit of a suspect. If the police searched your home without your consent, a warrant, or an emergency justifying their warrantless entry, your lawyer could likely suppress any evidence they obtained during the search.
The police violated the plain sight rule.
When the police have a warrant for your arrest, they may enter your home by force and apprehend you. But this warrant does not necessarily allow them to search for evidence. When the warrant only authorizes an arrest, the police can only seize evidence that is in plain sight. They cannot open your closet or drawers to look for drugs or weapons, for example. But if drugs or weapons are clearly visible, this evidence may be seized and used against you.
The police pulled you over for no reason.
When you’re driving a car, the police cannot pull you over just because they have a hunch that you might be doing something illegal. They actually have to see you breaking the law. Or you, your car, or your license plate must match the description of someone they have reason to believe has broken the law. Under cross-examination, police officers are often unable to convincingly articulate the facts that gave them a good reason for pulling you over. In this case, the judge may order the suppression of all evidence obtained as a result of this unlawful traffic stop.
The police lacked probable cause to arrest you.
In order to lawfully arrest you, the police need to have probable cause to believe that you are guilty of a crime. Sometimes, the arresting officer is unable to convincingly or coherently explain to the court why they decided to arrest you. Or your lawyer can show that the officer’s reasons did not meet the normal threshold of probable cause. In this case, the judge may order the suppression of any evidence obtained as a result of your arrest.
Your confession was coerced.
When the police arrest you, or place you in a position in which a reasonable person would assume they are under arrest, they must inform you of your right to remain silent and your right to a lawyer. United States law prohibits the police from obtaining coerced confessions and statements from criminal suspects, and the Supreme Court has ruled that any confession you make without being aware of your rights is by nature coercive. So if the police question you without informing you of your rights, or threaten physical violence against you in order to obtain your confession, this evidence may be suppressed.
Contact Spolin Law, P.C. for Help Today
The sooner your criminal defense lawyer begins working on your case, the better. It’s important for you to have an experienced attorney by your side to object to the prosecution’s evidence early in the case, because if the motion to suppress is successful, you may be able to have the charges dismissed without going through the expense and hassle of a trial. And even if the court rules against you on the motion to suppress, the issue will be preserved for a possible appeal later on.
With Reduced CA Sentences, Comes New Plea DealsPublished on August 7, 2019
Most criminal cases end when the defendant agrees to a plea deal offered by the prosecutor – but doing so is often not in their best interest. In California, some prosecutors are even inserting provisions into plea deals that would keep the defendant from benefiting from future changes in the law that might benefit them. For example, you might have to sign away any possibility of appealing the length of your sentence if the State of California decides to reduce the sentence length of the crime for which you were convicted.
This controversial practice shows how important it is to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side to negotiate a beneficial plea deal for you – or better yet, to beat your charges. Sometimes, a plea deal is the best outcome you can hope for. But in your case, a lawyer may be able to successfully advocate for your acquittal or a dismissal of the charges. You have rights in the criminal justice process, including the right to a lawyer to fight on your behalf.
San Diego Prosecutors Got Defendants to Sign Away Their Right to Challenge Their Sentence
In San Diego County, the prosecutor’s office has convinced several defendants to sign plea deals that make it impossible for them to benefit from new court rulings or legislation. This is an apparent backlash against efforts in Sacramento to do away with mandatory sentences and to change the definitions of some crimes. For example, last year, the California legislature passed a law that made it harder to convict people of felony murder. The law also had retroactive effects, meaning that people currently serving time for felony murder might be eligible for early release.
Prosecutors are trying to insulate defendants from benefiting from these legal changes, and they have the apparent authority to do it. In the 2013 case of Doe v. Harris, the California Supreme Court stated that the terms or consequences of a plea agreement, like any contract, may be altered by future changes in the law. But the court also stated that defendants and prosecutors could possibly agree to fix the terms of a plea bargain so that future changes in the law would not affect the substance of the deal.
This court decision resulted from a defendant’s attempt to shield himself from a change in the law that hurt his case. He plead guilty to a sex crime in the 90s, well aware that he would be placed on the sex offender registry, which was only accessible by law enforcement at the time. But then the law changed, and the registry became public. The offender sued the state of California for breach of contract, and he lost because there was no implicit or explicit promise in his plea deal that the terms of his registration as a sex offender would remain fixed.
The court suggested, however, that he might have been able to negotiate a provision that would have prevented changes in the law to affect his plea agreement. Ironically, what was meant as a way for defendants to avoid the bad consequences of changes in the law is now preventing them from taking advantage of beneficial changes in the law. Under the authority of Doe, prosecutors are able to fix the terms of plea deal so that you cannot get out of your sentence, even if the legislature decides to shorten it retroactively.
Fortunately, the California legislature may specifically prohibit this type of plea deal. State Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from South Los Angeles, has introduced Assembly Bill 1618, which would put the following into law:
“a provision of a plea bargain that requires a defendant to generally waive future potential benefits of legislative enactments, initiatives, judicial appellate decisions, or other changes in the law that may retroactively apply after the date of the plea is void as against public policy.”
The bill has passed several committees and is due for a vote in coming weeks.
Contact a Los Angeles Appeals Lawyer for Help Today
Negotiating a good plea deal may be the best outcome you can hope for in some cases. For example, if the prosecutor has strong and admissible evidence that points to your guilt, it may be best to negotiate a plea agreement instead of going through a trial that you will likely lose. But it is only a good idea to enter a plea agreement if an experienced criminal defense lawyer has looked through your case file and determined that this is the best option. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you might have a good chance of successfully fighting your charges.
Prosecutors often pressure suspects into accepting plea deals when this would not be in their best interest. They may even try to get you to sign an agreement when they know their case has weaknesses. This is why it’s so important to have a lawyer by your side during the plea deal negotiation. If you have been accused of a crime and are considering a plea deal, call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out through the online form for a free evaluation of your case.
Innocent Spolin Law Client Charged with Murder Walks Free After All Charges DroppedPublished on July 19, 2019
This past Tuesday shortly before noon a Spolin Law client charged with murder walked free after a judge dismissed the charges against him.
The client—a high school senior—had been charged with murder based on his alleged participation in a street racing contest where another driver had struck and killed a pedestrian. The client had not in fact been participating in any street racing and was not the driver who struck the pedestrian. The case was heard by Judge William Wood of the San Diego County Superior Court, Juvenile Division. The client’s family had hired Spolin Law P.C. to write the motion to dismiss the case and had also hired attorney Carl Bradley Patton to represent the client in the “jurisdiction hearing” that resulted in the dismissal.
Spolin Law’s motion to dismiss argued that all charges against the client should be dismissed and that the prosecution had not in fact presented evidence showing the client’s participation in a car racing contest. In support of this argument, the motion cited numerous prior cases with similar fact patterns and highlighted that convictions in other courts for the same crime were not analogous; other cases had all involved significantly more evidence of actual racing. The arguments were enough to persuade the Superior Court judge to drop all charges—including the murder charge—and dismiss the case.
When the ruling was announced, a wave of relief swept through the client’s family seated in the courtroom. The client himself let out a deep sigh of relief and, with tears in his eyes, embraced his father and other family members who were in the court. At that moment he was a free man, and he walked out of the courthouse with his family moments later. He will now be able to return to his life, which will include completing high school, applying to colleges, playing sports, and being with his family.
For more information about Spolin Law P.C. and how our attorneys may be able to help on a criminal case, feel free to contact us at (310) 424-5816.
Spolin Law Wins Key Ruling on Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus in Federal District CourtPublished on July 1, 2019
Early last week Spolin Law won a key ruling for a client on a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court for the Central District of California.
The client had contacted the firm just weeks before the deadline for a federal writ of habeas corpus. Federal writs have extremely strict deadlines, and individuals who file writs after the deadline typically get an automatic denial regardless of the merits of their arguments.
Besides the deadline, federal writs also have another requirement: writs of habeas corpus based on state convictions require that the issue at stake be litigated in the county’s Superior Court, the Court of Appeals, and the California Supreme Court. Only after losing in all three courts is a litigant allowed to bring the argument to federal court in a writ of habeas corpus.
This requirement was the client’s essential problem: he had just a few weeks of time before the federal deadline but had not yet raised his key argument (ineffectiveness of counsel) in any of the state courts. Moreover, the process of raising his claim in all the state courts would have taken several months at the very least (and certainly not the mere weeks he had before his federal deadline). While federal courts typically “pause” the deadline period for state court litigation filed and litigated properly, there was no guarantee that the federal court would consider the client’s state filings to be properly filed and litigated.
Spolin Law, a criminal appeals law firm under the direction of Aaron Spolin, attempted to solve this problem by seeking a “stay” from the federal court. Essentially, the firm filed the client’s federal writ of habeas corpus in federal court along with a request that the federal court preemptively affirm that they would count the federal writ as having been filed within the one-year limitations period regardless of the length of the state court proceedings.
United States Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato issued the written opinion granting Mr. Spolin’s requested stay. She sympathized with the client’s desire to have a “‘protective’ petition in federal court to avoid the ‘predicament’ of ‘litigating in state court for years only to find out in the end’ the state court petition was never ‘properly filed’ and thus that his federal petition is time barred.”
Spolin Law has also filed a state court writ regarding the same issues that are discussed in the federal writ. As the firm litigates this issue, its hopes to win in state court and thus negate the need to appeal any denial to federal court. Nonetheless, should the client not prevail in any of the three levels of state courts, the doors to federal court will be open as a result of Spolin Law’s diligent efforts to preserve every opportunity for the client to win his writ of habeas corpus and—ideally—secure his freedom.
Most Common Issues Raised on AppealPublished on May 17, 2019
If you were convicted of a crime in California, you might have the opportunity to appeal. This means requesting that the next highest court review your case for a particular legal error and either confirm the decision, overturn the decision, or send the case back to the lower court for review or a new trial. Criminal appeals are an essential part of the criminal justice system. The courts recognize that lawyers, judges, and jurors can make mistakes the first time around. An appeal allows you to point out a specific mistake and have it corrected.
If you believe a legal error occurred during your criminal case, you should talk reach out to Spolin Law P.C. to speak with a California appeals lawyer. We can review your case record, determine whether a legal mistake occurred, and if so – whether appealing that mistake may make a difference in the outcome of your case.
The Nine Most Common Issues Raised on Appeal
To appeal your case, you must have a more specific argument than “the jury was wrong.” You can disagree with the judge or jury’s decision all you want. If you cannot establish that a legal error took place during the case, then your appeal will likely be dismissed, or your conviction will simply be affirmed.
However, many legal mistakes can occur during litigation. Some of the most common errors raised on appeal include:
Incorrect Evidentiary Ruling
Whether or not evidence can be admitted in court is based on the California Evidence Code. At the very least, the evidence presented at trial must be relevant, not create undue prejudice, have a reliable foundation in fact, and not be hearsay. You may argue on appeal that certain evidence was admitted when it should have been excluded, or that certain evidence was deemed inadmissible when it should have been introduced to the court.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
A common issue at trial is seeking to suppress certain evidence, such as evidence that was unlawfully obtained by the police, and having the trial judge deny that motion. On appeal, you may argue the trial judge erred in not suppressing that evidence.
Motion to Suppress a Statement
During your initial criminal trial, your attorney may have fought to have certain statements you made suppressed and not introduced in court. If the trial judge denied that motion and allowed the statements, you can ask for this decision to be reviewed on appeal.
Lack of Sufficient Evidence
When you face criminal charges, the prosecutor must prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. You may argue on appeal that the prosecution failed to sufficiently establish one or more elements of the crime.
As legal professionals, prosecutors are bound by both law and professional ethics. If you believe the prosecutor broke a rule or law to obtain your conviction, you can raise this issue on appeal.
When you work with a lawyer, you have the right to adequate representation. However, you may realize that your trial lawyer failed to properly investigate the charges against you, failed to put forth evidence that would have supported an acquittal, failed to suppress inadmissible evidence, and/or failed to develop an appropriate defense strategy.
Incorrect Jury Instructions
Once both the defense and prosecution rest, and before the jury can deliberate, the judge provides the jury with instructions regarding what to consider and how to determine if you are guilty or not guilty of the offense. You may argue that the judge did not provide the jury with the correct instructions, or that they failed to include relevant instructions.
Jurors are subject to strict rules throughout a trial. You may find out after your conviction that one or more jurors violated those rules, which may have affected the outcome of your case. An example of juror misconduct is speaking with other jurors, witnesses, lawyers, or the judge outside of the courtroom.
Excessive or Unlawful Sentence
You may argue the legal error occurred at the point of sentencing. You may argue that the sentence the judge handed down is excessive, based on the law or public policy. You may also argue that the sentence is outside of the law.
Contact Us to Discuss Criminal Appeals
If you believe a serious mistake was made during your criminal trial, do not hesitate to take action, as your rights and freedom could be on the line. Reach out to Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816, or contact us through our online form to schedule a free case consultation.
CA Police Use Gang Members to Illicit Illegal Jailhouse ConfessionsPublished on April 24, 2019
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and other Southern California law enforcement agencies have been hiring gang members to obtain confessions from suspects in detention. The practice, unfortunately, is lawful and widespread throughout the United States. But in this case, the Orange County police and prosecutors allegedly stood by as their gang member informants used death threats to obtain some confessions. This type of coerced confession is unconstitutional and is now the subject of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
Many criminal cases are won – or lost – during the pretrial stage. Suspects are at their most vulnerable, usually shaken by the arrest experience and without the benefit of legal representation. The police know this is the best time to extract illegal jailhouse confessions, or incriminating statements from suspects. For this reason, you should always exercise your right to remain silent and request the assistance of a Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer for help with your case. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney at Spolin Law, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.
Police Obtained Confessions Through Threats of Violence
First exposed by Assistant Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders, the practice of using gang members to obtain confessions in the Los Angeles area has been described at length in the Orange County Weekly, the Orange County Register, and a report on Injusticewatch.org authored by former Los Angeles Times staff writer Ted Rohrlich.
Six Southern California counties hired two gang members to extract confessions in around 300 undercover jail operations between 2010 and 2016. The authorities gave the informants preferential treatment in jail, paid them over $300,000, and then released them into a witness protection program. Every so often, they were given wires and placed in the same cells as criminal suspects. The recordings helped with the prosecution of several hard-to-solve murder cases, most of which involved street gangs.
As Mexican Mafia shot callers, the informants knew that killings had to be carried out in a specific way. For example, drive-by shootings were forbidden, and corrections officers were no longer permissible targets. The informants would tell suspects that their killings had broken gang rules, and that gang leaders had added them to the “green list” for assassination. Under fear of death, the suspect would then explain to the informants how the killings had been “legally” carried out under gang rules – thus unknowingly confessing their crime to the police.
Orange County Sheriff’s Office May Have Broken the Law
When the police arrest you, you become a suspect. As such, you benefit from the right to be free of coercion. This is why police officers must give you a Miranda warning informing you that you have the right to remain silent, and that anything you say can be used against you. This warning often encourages suspects to stop talking. For this reason, the police try as much as possible to question potential suspects before a Miranda warning has been given. One way is to have a consensual conversation with a person before they officially become a suspect. Another is to trick a suspect into willingly confessing once they are in custody.
The Supreme Court does not consider your rights to be violated when the police pose as an inmate to obtain a confession from you. In the 1990 case of Illinois v. Perkins, the court stated, “that coercive atmosphere is not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone whom he believes to be a fellow inmate and whom he assumes is not an officer having official power over him.”
Southern California authorities stepped over the line, because their informants essentially used death threats against questioned suspects. The United States Constitution forbids the use or threats of violence to obtain confessions. For this reason, the ACLU has sued the Orange County Sheriff and Orange County District Attorney, claiming that “the threats these informants made and continue to make are plain, they are explicit, and they are unconstitutional.” But their civil rights case will succeed only if they can demonstrate that the authorities knew that their informants were using death threats.
Call Spolin Law for Help Today
When your rights are violated in pretrial detention, an appeals lawyer may be able to obtain the dismissal of your case. Alternatively, any evidence the police obtained through the violation of your rights may be removed from the prosecution’s case, making it unlikely that you will be convicted. If you or a family member was threatened into confessing, you need to act now to maximize your chances of a positive case outcome. Call Spolin Law today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out through the online form to schedule a free consultation of your case.
Spolin Law P.C. Attorneys Win Ruling on Constitutionality of SB 1437Published on April 11, 2019
This Monday, a team of Spolin Law P.C. attorneys representing one of the firm’s clients won an important ruling on the constitutionality of SB 1437. Senate Bill (SB) 1437 is a new and retroactive law that drastically reduces sentences for inmates who had been convicted of “felony-murder” in circumstances where they had not actually intended to cause a death. The law was passed in September, 2018, and went into effect on January 1, 2019. (To learn more about SB 1437, read the firm’s recent article about the law.)
The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office had argued that the client’s SB 1437 petition should be dismissed because the law itself was unconstitutional. The DA’s Office alleged that SB 1437 (1) improperly amended prior voter-passed initiatives, (2) violated the separation of powers doctrine by retroactively modifying sentences, and (3) diminished victims’ rights. The argument in response successfully rebutted these assertions by showing how the new law (1) does not contravene prior initiatives when analyzed under the proper legal standard used for analyzing initiative modifications, (2) comports with current standards of continuing judicial oversight of criminal convictions, and (3) does not modify any constitutional or statutory right of victims.
At the end of the Monday hearing and after reading all written submissions, Judge Forcum ruled in favor of the Spolin Law client and upheld the constitutionality of SB 1437. The case will now proceed to a re-sentencing hearing.
To learn more about SB 1437 or any other criminal appeal or post-conviction matter, contact Spolin Law for a free consultation. The firm can be reached at (310) 424-5816.