Attorney at Law Magazine Features Spolin Law P.C. in a Cover Story About the Firm’s Successes and Mission StatementPublished on December 9, 2020
The October 2020 New York edition of Attorney at Law Magazine profiled Spolin Law P.C. in a wide-ranging article about the firm’s successful advocacy and its mission statement of treating all clients with respect.
As the article notes, the firm’s fights to win its cases while also treating clients and family members with respect and dignity.
To read the article, you can visit the Attorney at Law Magazine website or read the text of the article copied below:
To learn more about Spolin Law and how its criminal appeals lawyers can help on your case, call us at (866) 716-2805.
Prior success does not guarantee future success.
What is a Wobbler Offense?Published on December 8, 2020
A wobbler offense, also called an “alternative felony/misdemeanor offense,” is a crime that can be charged or punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor in California. Usually the prosecutor decides whether to charge a wobbler as a felony or as a misdemeanor. In some cases judges will decide how to punish a wobbler offense. In addition, a defendant convicted of a wobbler felony may choose to file a petition with the court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor. In California there are hundreds of crimes that qualify as wobblers. These include sex crimes, domestic violence, and fraud crimes.
When can the wobbler offense be reduced to a misdemeanor?
There exist four times when a wobbler crime can be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor:
- When the prosecution first charges the offense;
- At a felony preliminary hearing when the defendant is held to answer;
- During sentencing; or
- If the defendant was not sentenced to prison, after the defendant has done California’s felony probation and filed a petition to reduce the charge.
How do prosecutors decide how to charge a crime?
California does not mandate how a prosecutor should charge a wobbler crime, it remains at the discretion of the prosecutor. In California prosecutors often follow the crime charging standards put out by the California District Attorneys Association. They suggest prosecutors look at the following factors to inform their decision:
- The defendant’s cooperation with law enforcement;
- The age of the defendant;
- The severity of the crime;
- The defendant’s criminal record;
- The chances of defendant continuing to commit crimes;
- If the defendant is eligible for probation;
- How strong the prosecution’s case is.
When do judges reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor?
Judges, like prosecutors, have the discretion to reduce wobblers to misdemeanors from Penal Code 17. The judge can make this choice at either:
- The preliminary hearing,
- The time of sentencing, or
- Following the defendant’s petition to reduce a wobbler felony to a misdemeanor, for cases where the defendant was sentenced to and already completed California’s felony probation.
Judges are not bound by the prosecutor’s decision on how to charge the crime. If there are mitigating circumstances of the crime, judges are able to reduce a wobbler felony down to a misdemeanor. These mitigating circumstances are circumstances that argue in the favor of the judge being more lenient in sentencing. These mitigating factors include, among many others,
- The defendant not having any priors or an insignificant criminal record,
- The defendant played only a minor role in the crime
- The defendant’s acknowledgement of the wrongdoing and/or restitution to the victim early on in the criminal process
- The defendants earlier behavior on probation or parole was satisfactory.
How does one get a wobbler conviction expunged?
Expungement is a type of post-conviction relief in California that is available to most wobblers. For wobblers it does not matter if the charge ended up as a felony or as a misdemeanor conviction. Eligible defendants can petition for an expungement following a completed probation. If the court grants the expungement, the case is to be dismissed with no conviction. In addition, the defendant does not have to tell any employers in the future about the case. Those not eligible for expungement are people convicted of certain sex crimes involving children. Additionally, in order for the defendant to qualify they must also have not served time in California State Prison for their offense, or had served jail time in a state prison for a crime that would be now served in county jail following Proposition 47’s new legislation.
Contact Spolin Law for Help
Spolin Law P.C. Awards 2020 Civil Rights & Criminal Law Scholarship WinnerPublished on November 5, 2020
Spolin Law P.C. is proud to announce the winner of our 2020 Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship. This year, Spolin Law P.C. has chosen Javier Nicholas Ordieres 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.
Mr. Ordieres was selected based on his impressive scholastic achievements, combined with his essay, which spoke to the heart of the US Constitution, as more than words on a page. Mr. Ordieres not only captured the faults of our government, but the enduring hope the document imparts, to citizens and immigrants alike – our promised inheritance as Americans.
You can read Mr. Ordieres’ entire essay here.
Javier will be attending the University of Georgia in Athens in the fall, and our team of Los Angeles criminal appeals attorneys looks forward to seeing how leaders like him will preserve and advance 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.
El Cliente Celebra su Libertad junto a sus Abogados Después de que su Condena a Cadena Perpetua Fuera AnuladaPublished on October 9, 2020
The California Supreme Court sided with a Spolin Law client earlier this month, effectively saving the client from a potential 50-year-to-life sentence.
Spolin Law represented the client throughout the appeals court process. Earlier this year, attorney Aaron Spolin had won the client’s matter in the California Court of Appeal. When the prosecutor appealed the Court of Appeal’s ruling, the California Supreme Court sided with the Spolin Law client by denying the prosecutor’s petition for further review and thereby settling the matter in the client’s favor.
This is the conclusion of a months-long appellate battle that began when Spolin Law won a hearing in May, which situated the client in juvenile court for a double-murder trial involving elements of self-defense.
After Mr. Spolin won the hearing that would allow the client to be retained in juvenile court, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office appealed the finding to the California Court of Appeal. They argued that the lower-court judge had abused her discretion in ruling for the Spolin Law client and had improperly applied the law. In the defense response, Mr. Spolin argued that the lower court had ruled properly due to (1) new changes in the law enacted by Proposition 57, (2) the intent of the recent proposition coupled with clear legislative intent, and (3) the client’s lack of sophistication, prior trauma, clean record, and ability to be rehabilitated.
To view the table of contents outlining Spolin Law’s appellate arguments, click here.
After Spolin Law won in the California Court of Appeal, the California Supreme Court effectively sided with the Spolin Law client by rejecting the prosecution’s attempt to overturn the lower court’s finding. Because the California Supreme Court is the highest court with regard to California law, there is no further court to which the prosecution can appeal. Therefore, this appellate issue is finally and permanently resolved in favor of the Spolin Law client.
Speak to a Criminal Appeals Lawyer at Spolin Law P.C.
Spolin Law founder and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin is ranked in the top 1% of criminal law attorneys in the state of California. He is an award-winning Los Angeles criminal appeals attorney and, along with the other attorneys at Spolin Law, has been on the winning side of hundreds of cases. For questions regarding how a criminal appeals attorney may help you appeal your case today, please call (310) 424-5816.
Client Celebrates Freedom with His Lawyers After Life Sentence Is OverturnedPublished on October 9, 2020
Earlier this week a Spolin Law client visited the firm’s office to celebrate his newfound freedom. After two years of work by the firm, the client’s life sentence was dismissed, and he was finally released shortly before the office meeting.
The client’s fiancé, father, and mother were present at the happy occasion. Spolin Law employees present also included attorney Aaron Spolin, attorney Caitlin Dukes, case manager Hemi Tann, and mailroom manager Michael Alfi.
The client had originally been convicted of murder because a person had died during the course of a robbery in which the client participated. However, the client had absolutely nothing to do with the death, did not want it to happen, and had been powerless to stop the unfortunate chain of events that eventually lead to the death. Notwithstanding this fact, the District Attorney’s Office had charged the client with murder. Based on changes in state law since the conviction, the judge agreed with the Spolin Law attorneys that the client’s murder conviction had to be dismissed, resulting in a re-sentencing that eliminated the life sentence.
The firm had won the client’s case several month ago (see earlier link); however, the CDCR and prison facility had improperly kept the client in custody due to an inaccurate interpretation of the client’s time credits. Spolin Law attorney Caitlin Dukes repeatedly contacted the CDCR to resolve this issue and get the facility to actually release the client. The client is now considering a money-damages lawsuit for improper confinement during the extra months he spent in prison.
“It was beautiful to see their whole family together,” said Hemi Tann, who is a case manager at the firm. “I felt wonderful knowing that we had helped this family get their son back.”
The client has already been offered a job as an auto mechanic and hopes to begin work shortly. He will finally have a chance to make up for the years he lost and start his life over with his fiancé, who supported him throughout the process.
How to Choose a Law Firm for a Criminal AppealPublished on September 21, 2020
If you have been convicted of and sentenced for a crime, you have the right to appeal that conviction or sentence. Numerous complex rules set the time and manner in which you must file your appeal. You have a limited window to find a criminal appeals lawyer to take your case. With so many criminal law firms out there, how do you choose the one that can handle your particular case? Your appeal is one of the few ways to have your conviction or sentence overturned, so you have a lot at stake. Choosing the wrong firm may prevent a successful appeal.
Factors To Consider When Picking a Appeal Law Firm
Below are factors to consider in choosing the right law firm for you. No one factor is determinative, and the factors overlap in some instances. The list provides guidance in selecting the firm that can best represent you in a challenging appeal.
- Knowledge: are the attorneys at the firm knowledgeable of the area of law relating to your case? Some lawyers practice in many areas of the law, criminal law included. For simple criminal cases at the trial court level, hiring such a lawyer might make sense. For a criminal appeal, however, you want a firm that has in-depth knowledge of the procedural and substantive law related to criminal appeals. The timelines, rules, and standards of judicial review are significantly different for an appeal than for a trial. Look for a law firm whose attorneys are schooled in criminal appellate law to obtain the best representation.
- Experience: do the attorneys at the firm have experience in representing clients in your situation? Experience in criminal appeals is key to a successful outcome. Many excellent trial lawyers are available, and some do appeals. However, you want a law firm or an attorney who has significant experience specifically in appellate work. Such experience shows that the attorney or law firm knows what works and what doesn’t in a criminal appeal and helps to provide the most efficient, effective representation.
- Expertise: do the attorneys at the firm have the expertise to achieve success in criminal appeals? The next factor to consider is the firm’s success in appealing criminal convictions. All the knowledge and experience that an attorney may possess does not always equal success. You want an attorney or law firm whose strategies and arguments result in positive outcomes.
Such success may be reflected in an attorney’s status within the profession. Being a top lawyer in the field or being a speaker or leader in the criminal appeals area of law indicates an expertise that other attorneys or firms may not have. Attorneys are named top lawyers for a reason; their dedication to and success in criminal appeals mean that they provide extraordinary representation.
- Resources: does the firm have the resources to investigate, research, and pursue the appeal? A criminal appeals law firm, large or small, should have an arsenal of resources to investigate your case to maximize the likelihood of success on appeal.
Besides attorneys, look at whether the firm has paralegals, dedicated legal research personnel, and private investigators to handle your appeal. Many facets make up an appeal, and specialized personnel dedicated to handling those different facets help the attorneys to prepare a thorough, well-reasoned appeal that is supported by law and fact.
- Dedication: is the firm dedicated to your case, rather than treating you like just another case in a revolving door? If the law firm takes on every criminal appeal that comes through its doors, your case might fall through the cracks or be handled without the thorough, careful treatment that an appeal warrants. Hiring a firm that represents only select cases increases the firm’s focus on you and your case.
- Edge: does the firm have that “X Factor”? Look for a firm that has something unique to offer, something that gives it an edge over other firms and over the opposition. An attorney’s background can provide this factor. It may seem counterintuitive to select an attorney who was once a prosecutor, for example, but such an attorney would have valuable insight into the strategies of the other side on appeal. Being able to predict and undermine the opposition’s arguments on appeal increases the chances of success.
Contact Spolin Law for Help
With so much at stake, choosing an attorney for your appeal may seem overwhelming. The above factors may help you in selecting an attorney who can maximize your chance of success on appeal. As stated, no one factor is determinative; you want to consider all of them in making the crucial choice of an appellate attorney.
Criminal Appeals News – Wrongfully Convicted Frances Choy ReleasedPublished on September 14, 2020
In 2003, 17-year-old Frances Choy was arrested in Brockton, Mass. for pouring gasoline around her home and setting a fire that killed her parents. After two trials where the jury failed to reach a verdict, in 2011 she was on murder and arson charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Kenneth Choy, Ms. Choy’s 16-year-old nephew, who also lived in the home, was tried on murder charges but was acquitted shortly after Ms. Choy’s first mistrial and quickly after fled to Hong Kong in 2008.
This September, Judge Linda E. Giles vacated the convictions following Ms. Choy’s lawyers’ discovery of multiple issues that occurred at her third trial, when she was indicted. In addition, Judge Giles also ruled that emails that recently emerged proved the trial prosecutors showed “racial animus” against Ms. Choy and members of her family. These emails include exchanges of images of Asian people, some with derogatory comments, ‘jokes’ about Asian stereotypes, and cartoons mocking Asian people speaking imperfect Asian. The prosecutors’ disturbing emails went even further and made jokes insinuating Ms. Choy committed incest with Kenneth Choy, who now, with new evidence, is thought to be the one who had actually set the fire and blamed Ms. Choy.
The numerous problems that occurred at Ms. Choy’s third trial are now revealed, which, in combination with the discriminatory emails, led to Judge Giles overturning the conviction. At her trial the prosecutors made Ms. Choy out to be an emotionless killer who wanted her parents’ life insurance and to spend more time with her boyfriend. Prosecutors presented Ms. Choy’s sweatpants that she was wearing after the fire as evidence from a State Police chemist, claiming the sweatpants tested positive for gasoline residue. Yet, following her conviction, Ms. Choy’s legal team hired an analytical chemist who concluded that no gasoline residue was on her sweatpants. Although Kenneth had already been suspected in setting the fire, after he testified against Ms. Choy, her attorney did not bother to call an expert witness or interview others about Kenneth’s role in the fire. The key witness, who Ms. Choy’s trial lawyer did not contact, was a friend of Kenneth’s, who later put in a sworn statement that Kenneth admitted he started the fire. The key witness said Kenneth did so out of revenge, and even bragged about being found not guilty. Prosecutors also withheld the knowledge of two other fires at the home while Ms. Choy was incarcerated.
The prosecutors involved were Karen O’Sullivan and John Bradley. O’Sullivan left the Plymouth County’s district attorney’s office years ago and now works in the Bristol County’s DA office, while Bradley was fired from the Plymouth office in 2012. While incarcerated, Ms. Choy pursued a bachelor’s degree from Boston University, and graduated magna cum laude. Her Attorney John Barter said, in a statement from People magazine, that “This may be the first case in the U.S. where a murder conviction has been thrown out because of racism on the part of prosecutors.” Her other Attorney Sharon Beckman agreed and shared, “Frances can never get back the 17 years the criminal legal system took from her, but we are overjoyed at her exoneration and hope her case will inspire meaningful reform,” according to the New York Times.
We too hope this case will lead to reform, in not just the realm of wrongful convictions, but the racism that exists that often leads to them. The racially degrading comments of the prosecutors in this case, and more subtly in many others, caused both the prosecutors and the jury to view Ms. Choy as a stereotype and disregards her humanity. Thanks to Ms. Choy’s persistence and the support and work of her attorneys, Ms. Choy was able to achieve justice that is long overdue. With her attorneys she was able to fight back against the system, and hopefully will inspire others to do the same. We are glad to see Ms. Choy win back her life, and hope to help others do the same.
How to Appeal a Conviction Based on Jury Error?Published on September 7, 2020
America’s jury system is a wonderful thing. In the interest of a fair trial, a group of your fellow citizens gather to decide whether or not you are guilty as charged. Theoretically, it’s one of the best ways to reach a just verdict in a court of law.
That’s not to say that humans never make mistakes, and juries are no exception. Human error naturally extends to juries, as hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals can tell you.
But a jury conviction is not necessarily the end of your case. If you or a loved one have been wrongfully convicted because of jury error, let an experienced and accomplished appeal lawyer from Spolin Law P.C. review the trial record and explain your options.
With our history of getting wrongful convictions overturned, uncovering jury mistakes, and securing the release for countless individuals, we have the knowledge and fierce commitment to helping help your case.
How Are Juries Selected?
Different states have different means of selecting their jurors for trials. In California and Texas, for example, jury members may come from records provided by the DMV, or voter registration lists. Other states, like New York, may select jurors from income tax, unemployment or family assistance, or volunteer records.
Once the jury members are summoned to court, they are placed on panels for select trial juries.
How Should a Jury Decide on a Verdict?
Upon hearing the final arguments and receiving instructions from the judge, the jury members leave the courtroom to deliberate. Many states, including California, have a lead juror, or presiding juror, that heads the discussions, collects the jurors’ votes, and delivers the final verdict. The bailiff guards the jury room so that no one enters during deliberation.
Oftentimes, the court will provide the jurors with all possible verdicts in written form, so that the presiding juror only has to choose the correct verdict form after deliberation has ended.
In some cases, like those in federal court, the jury’s decision must be unanimous, with the exception of some civil cases.
The jurors may also be sequestered or secluded from all contact with other people, newspapers, and news reports, if they cannot reach a unanimous verdict by the end of the day. However, the jury will usually be allowed to go home at night in most cases. The judge instructs jury members not to view or read reports of the case in the news, nor are they allowed to discuss the case outside of the jury room.
If the jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, it is referred to as a hung jury, which will lead to a mistrial. Since the case is not decided at this point, it may be tried again at a later date before an entirely new jury. Another option is for the prosecutor or plaintiff to drop the case, which removed the need for a retrial.
What Is Reversible Juror Error?
While everyone makes mistakes, what happens when the error is made during a jury trial with consequences as serious as a criminal conviction or incarceration.
If the jury’s error was so significant that it is considered a reversible error, it could be grounds for appeal. The most common type of reversible jury error stems from poor jury instructions, but other possibilities include whether the evidence or testimonies were improperly introduced or there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction.
What’s the Next Step if You Suspect Juror Error?
It can be hard to identify when reversible juror error occurs, since deliberations happen behind closed doors and juries rely heavily on instructions for legal context. For instance, if the jury receives improper instructions, it’s highly unlikely they will reach a fair verdict.
If you or your trial attorney believe a reversible juror error occurred, it’s best to consult an experienced appeals attorney who can review the trial record, the judge’s instructions, and identify anything that may have resulted in an unfair result.
How Spolin Law, P.C. Can Assist You
At Spolin Law, P.C., we know how much damage a wrongful conviction from a jury’s error can inflict on someone’s life. But our understanding of how jury errors are made and what it takes to reverse these mistakes has exonerated many of our clients and helped them get their lives back.
Criminal Appeals: What’s Abuse of Discretion?Published on August 27, 2020
When a case goes to trial, the court has some leeway in how they decide certain issues. If they fail to decide the matter in a legally valid way, this could be an abuse of its discretion and you may be able to get the court’s decision overturned.
A criminal appeal in California is challenging, as courts are generally very careful about their protocols. But mistakes happen, resulting in inappropriate evidence being admitted, overly harsh sentences, and wrongful convictions.
If you believe that a legal mistake led to your or a loved one’s current situation, you need an experienced appeals attorney with a history of success in the criminal appeal process. Let Aaron Spolin and the attorneys at Spolin Law, P.C. review your case file, find any errors, and fight to have incorrect decisions reversed.
Start your appeal today. Call (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation with Spolin Law, P.C.
Appeals: Defining Discretion
Discretion is the flexibility given to the court or judge in your case to make decisions based on circumstances, legal precedent, and their own judgment. This is a fairly vague legal concept, but it usually covers very specific decisions made by judges in criminal cases.
When judges act outside the scope of their authority, base decisions on biased views, or misinterpret the law, it can be considered an abuse of discretion.
Some common examples of abuse of discretion are:
- Not allowing a certain witness to testify
- Showing bias toward the accused
- Making flawed rulings on evidence that stifle one side’s rights
- Influencing the jury to reach a certain verdict
- Sentences that are far too harsh for the offense
When Abuse of Discretion Occurs
How do you know when abuse of discretion occurred?
This is a hard question to answer definitively since discretion is based on individual judgment. And like most appeals, proving that a legal error happened can be an uphill battle. However, the court does not have to prove that they were correct or fair in their judgment. Instead, you only have to establish that they abused their discretion.
For an appeal court to rule that a lower court abused its discretion, and subsequently denied you a fair trial, you must show that the judge’s decision was so obviously against the evidence and reason that it violated your right to a fair trial.
An appeal based on abuse of discretion can have several possible outcomes. If successful, the appeal court may reverse the trial court’s judgment. If you prove that an abuse of discretion occurred but not that it kept you from receiving a fair trial, the appeal court may comment on the error but not overturn the decision. In addition, if you fail to prove an abuse happened, the appeal court will uphold the trial court’s original decision.
Abuse of Discretion: Standard of Review
Standard of review refers to the grounds on which you request a review of your trial court decision. It is not enough to say that you disagree with the decision and ask for an appeal, nor is it enough to state that the trial was unfair or erroneous.
The appellate court is very limited in what it can look at in an appeal, which is why you and your attorney must choose the correct standard.
Other standards of review include the substantial evidence and de novo standards. Substantial evidence is when the trial court’s decision is not backed up by sufficient evidence. The de novo standard is appropriate when the issue stems from a legal issue, allowing the appellate court to evaluate the case as if the trial court had never ruled on it.
Contact Spolin Law for Help
The court is often slow to overturn decisions, and you have a demanding burden to prove an abuse of discretion occurred. But if you think there’s a chance that such an abuse happened in your case or that of a loved one, you should contact Spolin Law P.C. and speak to an experienced criminal appeals lawyer or staff member as soon as possible.
Working with an attorney with a background and history of success in appeals can give you clarity into your case and confidence in your argument. This could result in receiving a lighter sentence, a new trial, or even your freedom.
Coronavirus Claims the Life of ExonereePublished on August 24, 2020
Coronavirus claims the life of exoneree, Richard Lapointe
In 1987, the mysterious death of 88-year-old Bernice Martin rattled the small city of Manchester, Connecticut. Martin was violently raped, stabbed, and strangled. Her apartment was then set to flames and the building burned to the ground with her inside.
Two years had passed, and the offender was still not identified. The Manchester police were frustrated with the little progress they had made and wanted nothing more than to solve the case. However, to do so, they needed someone to blame for the crimes and felt that Richard Lapointe fit their criteria.
Mr. Lapointe was a middle-aged, mentally disabled man, with a loose connection to the victim. The police called Lapointe in for questioning and after a grueling 9 ½ hour interrogation, Lapointe signed three written statements, falsely confessing to all crimes. He was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison.
However, many recognized the discrepancies in Lapointe’s case and rallied to his defense. Just months after Lapointe’s conviction, a group called Friends of Richard Lapointe was formed. His supporters believed he was unfairly targeted because of his disability and worked to advocate on his behalf. They eventually reached out to Centurion Ministries, an organization that fights wrongful convictions. A band of lawyers at Centurion felt for Lapointe and agreed to help challenge the court’s decision.
In court, his lawyers successfully proved that Lapointe was not given a fair trial nor an accurate verdict. They pointed out that the state suppressed important evidence that would likely have changed the outcome of the case. They also argued that Mr. Lapointe’s original trial counsel failed to provide proper assistance by neglecting to call important witnesses to testify and making no effort to dismiss Lapointe’s false confessions despite overwhelming evidence that showed inconsistency.
The legal team at Centurion Ministries stood by Lapointe for a total of 15 years, working tirelessly to prove his innocence. Finally, on October 2, 2015, his case was dismissed and after 26 years in prison, Lapointe was a free man once again.
Upon his release, Lapointe moved back in with his family until eventually being moved into a nursing home. It was during his time there that Lapointe contracted the novel coronavirus.
Sadly, after valiantly battling the virus for weeks, Richard Lapointe passed away on Tuesday, August 4, at the age of 74.
Sometimes the criminal justice system gets it wrong — more often than we would like to admit. But if Lapointe’s inspiring story has taught us anything, it’s that with the right attitude and a strong support system, we can stand up to the faulty system and fight for justice.
Our hearts go out to the friends and family of Richard. Although Mr. Lapointe is no longer with us, his unwavering resilience and courage will continue to be an inspiration for us all.