Legal Blog

Spolin Law P.C. Attorneys Win Ruling on Constitutionality of SB 1437

Published 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.)

Spolin Law attorneys Aaron Spolin and Matthew Delgado represented the client, whose case was before Judge Mark R. Forcum in San Mateo Superior Court, Department 8.

San Mateo Superior Court

San Mateo Superior Court

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.

Categories: Appeals, Criminal Law

How Long Will My Appeal Take?

Published on April 3, 2019

Many people who are in a position to successfully appeal their case are unable or unwilling to start the process. At Spolin Law, we are dedicated to fighting for positive case outcomes for our clients through the appeals process. To schedule a free consultation of your case, contact our award-winning criminal appeals lawyers today at (310) 424-5816.

How Long Will Your Criminal Appeal Take in California?

The exact length of an appeal in California depends on the complexity and merit of your case, as well as the court that hears your appeal. One important and often overlooked fact is that there are two parallel appeals systems in California: one for federal cases, and one for state cases. In the California system, appeals usually take 14 to 16 months, whereas a federal appeal often takes more than two years. During this time, your criminal appeals lawyer will be advocating on your behalf throughout several stages of the process.

Understanding Appeals Deadlines

If the appeals process takes a long time, it’s because your case must go through several stages. And at each stage after you file, you have to wait behind other cases that have been filed before yours. The first step, which is the fastest, is starting the appeals process. If you were convicted in a California state court, you have as little as 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal, 60 days in felony cases. But if you want to appeal a federal conviction, you have only 14 days to file your notice after the trial court’s judgment. When considering deadlines to file Notices of Appeal, however, it’s important to note that this is not your only avenue for post-conviction relief. To learn more, contact an attorney at our firm right away.

Once a Notice of Appeal is filed, your legal team must obtain and review the record (which includes all the transcripts from your hearings) along with copies of all of the evidence that was considered. This is one of the most crucial stages of the process, because there is a lot to do, and very little time to do it. Your lawyers must turn over each stone in your case, consider every possible argument in your favor, and then select and present the best ones in a well-reasoned and researched brief.

A brief is a legal argument that is submitted to the court, in which you ask for relief from your judgment and explain the reasons why it should be granted. In federal and in state cases, the brief must follow strict (and different) rules governing both the content and the form of the document. The court in which you have filed the appeal will tell you exactly when you have to submit your brief. In both federal and state courts, the brief must generally be submitted within 40 days of you obtaining the record.

All of the briefs will usually be filed around three to five months after the original judgment you are appealing. The next stage, which can take several months or even years more, is for the appeals judges to read the briefs, and for the court to schedule an oral argument. The oral argument is an opportunity to convince the judges that your interpretation of the law is correct. In both federal and state appeals, the hearing is very short, meaning that it’s essential to have a lawyer with experience in this type of advocacy.

After the oral argument, it can take a few weeks for the court to issue its opinion. If they rule in your favor, your conviction might be vacated. But more commonly, they will order a new trial.

For example, if the judge at your first trial didn’t allow you to present a certain piece of evidence in your defense. A successful appeal will give you the ability to present that evidence in your defense at your new trial. If the appeals court rules against you, you can request that the Supreme Court (of California or the United States) review your case.

How Can a California Criminal Appeals Lawyer Help?

The appeals process is vastly different from a trial. Your lawyer doesn’t present evidence or cross-examine witnesses. Instead, they research and write lengthy legal briefs and present their best arguments at a short hearing. For this reason, you need to ensure that your appeal is handled by an experienced appellate lawyer. At Spolin Law, we have a successful track record in California’s courts of appeals. Call us today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out online if you are considering an appeal of your criminal conviction.

Categories: Appeals, Criminal Law

What You Need to Know About Appellate Briefs in California

Published on March 27, 2019

If you have been convicted of a crime, you may be able to avoid criminal penalties by appealing the conviction. The appeal is essentially a request for a higher court to review your trial, and to reverse any errors that may have resulted in a wrongful conviction or excessively harsh sentencing. The appeals process is costly and may not get the results you intend, but you should not rule out this option before speaking with a knowledgeable Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer.

You owe it to yourself and to your family to make every effort to avoid the devastating consequences of a criminal conviction. If you have questions about the appeals process in CA and what it entails – including appellate briefs – contact Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 to schedule a free consultation of your case.

What Does a Successful Appellate Brief Look Like?

An appellate brief must be filed in time, and with the appropriate court. There are several district courts of appeals in California, each with its unique territorial jurisdiction. Your lawyer must first file a notice of appeal within 30 to 60 days of the final judgment in your criminal case. It is important to note, however, that there are possibilities for post-conviction relief beyond these deadlines, including a CA Writ of Habeas Corpus, and an Application for Communication of Sentence.

Assuming these deadlines are met, your lawyer will be able to submit a brief outlining the reasons why your conviction or sentencing was wrongful. California has stringent requirements about briefs that apply both to the content and appearance of the document. Title 8 of the California Rules of Court lays out these requirements in detail.

A good appellate brief will contain the following:

  • Cover page – In this part of your brief, your attorney should identify the case, the parties, and their legal counsel with appropriate formatting. The party who files the appeal is called “appellant,” and the answering party is called the “respondent.”
  • Table of authorities – This section will list of the court cases, statutes, and regulations that are cited as authority in the argument section.
  • Introduction – The introduction of your brief should include a quick review of the facts of the case, and why there is an appealable error.
  • Statement of the case – This should include a detailed description of the procedural steps that your case traveled through. An accurate account of the procedural history is essential, because this often shows where the trial court made mistakes.
  • Statement of appealability – Your appeals lawyer should write a description of why the lower court’s judgment is appealable, and cite all relevant articles of the Code of Procedure.
  • Statements of facts – Your attorney should include an in-depth account of all of the relevant facts of the case.
  • Argument – This section will connect the facts of the case with established legal precedent and legislative authority. It will show that what occurred in your case match other cases where an appeal was granted in favor of the convicted. This section will also anticipate the arguments of the respondent, and provide counter-arguments.
  • Conclusion – Here, the brief should clearly state why the court should grant an appeal, and concisely repeat the strongest arguments in favor of this outcome.

Sometimes, the respondent’s answer brief may contain arguments or cite authority that your appellate lawyer did not anticipate in the initial brief. For this reason, California law allows the appellant to file a reply brief to address any unanticipated issues. A good brief should be so in-depth that it leaves no stone unturned, and adequately covers any potential arguments that the government could make.

Do You Have Questions About Appellate Briefs? Call Us Today

If the appeals court accepts your attorney’s arguments, it may cancel the judgment of the trial court and order a new trial. If sentencing issues were on appeal, the court might order a new sentencing hearing. These outcomes can result in your freedom being restored. If you have been convicted of a crime, you may still have time to appeal. Call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out online to schedule a free, initial evaluation of your case.

Categories: Appeals, Criminal Law

Common Pleadings in California Appeals Cases

Published on February 27, 2019

If you lose your criminal trial, you may still be able to avoid a conviction if you successfully appeal the judgment of the court that heard your case. California appeals cases are heard by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court if the offense was a misdemeanor, or the California Court of Appeals if the crime was a felony. These appeals courts will not give you a new trial. Instead, they will hear your defense lawyer’s arguments about legal errors that wrongfully resulted in your conviction or affected your sentencing.

If your appeal is successful, the court may cancel the judgment of the trial court, and then order the trial court to give you a new trial or sentencing hearing that follows the appeals court’s instructions. If you believe you were wrongly convicted of a crime, call a Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer from Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out online to schedule a free consultation of your case.

What Can My Lawyer Argue on Appeal?

Within 30 to 60 days of the judgment, you’ll need to send in the “Notice of Appeal.” During this timeframe, your lawyer will need to carefully review what happened at trial and determine what arguments to make. After all, it is the party who appeals who bears the burden of proving that the trial court made a mistake.

It is important to note, however, that there are other types of post-conviction relief that do not have as stringent of the deadlines as the traditional direct appeals. For questions regarding these options, contact an appeals attorney from Spolin Law P.C. right away.

There are many different paths to a successful appeal in a criminal case. Below are some of the more common issues that defense lawyers may plead in their briefs:

Wrongly Admitting or Rejecting Evidence

California has complex rules that govern what kind of evidence may be introduced at trial. In criminal cases, the defense and the prosecution often argue over whether a piece of evidence should be shown to the jury or not. Hearsay, unduly prejudicial evidence, and any fruits of an unlawful search or seizure usually cannot be introduced into a trial. If you believe a judge misapplied the rules of evidence, you can appeal on this basis.

Improper Jury Instructions

After the prosecution and the defense have presented their cases, the jury must decide whether the defendant is guilty. Before sending the jury away to deliberate, the judge will give them instructions on how to consider the evidence they’ve received during the trial. Improper instructions – which give the jury a confusing definition of the offense, or that would encourage the improper consideration of certain pieces of evidence – may form the basis of an appeal.

Abuse of Discretion and Other Issues at Sentencing

Sentencing hearings are opportunities for the defense and the prosecution to present evidence and make arguments. When the judge improperly applies the law at a sentencing hearing, or abuses their discretion in handing down an especially harsh sentence, the defense may appeal. If successful, this appeal may result in a more lenient sentence, but it will not alter your guilty verdict.

The above issues that may be raised at appeal are part of the category of prejudicial error. It means that the appeal identifies a mistake of law which substantially harmed you at trial or during sentencing. If an error was made, but didn’t meaningfully affect the outcome of the trial, this error may not form the basis of a valid appeal.

Are There Alternatives to the Appeals Process?

Sometimes, exculpatory evidence emerges after the trial is said and done. However, appeals courts are not allowed to consider new evidence when hearing an appeal – their decision is made exclusively on the record of the initial trial. Fortunately, there is an alternative to filing an appeal in this kind of scenario. Your lawyer may request a higher court to issue a writ, such as a habeas corpus, which is a challenge of illegal incarceration. For example, if another suspect confesses to the crime after you’ve been convicted, your lawyer may get you freed by filing a writ of habeas corpus.

Call Spolin Law P.C. for Help With Your Criminal Appeals Case

At Spolin Law P.C., we believe that each and every one of our clients deserves an aggressive and thorough defense strategy. When a trial court makes erroneous rulings that affect our clients’ rights, we will not hesitate to file an appeal. If you or a loved one has been wrongly convicted of a crime, contact us today at (310) 424-5816 to schedule a free and case evaluation.

Categories: Appeals, Criminal Law

How to Look Up the Location of a California State Prison Inmate

Published on January 29, 2019

You can find just about any type of information online these days, and even public records are available for viewing if you’ve got an electronic device and an internet connection. It’s possible to find out where a California state prison inmate is held with just a few clicks and a promise to not use the details for an unlawful purpose. You start by conducting a search via the Inmate Locator website run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

However, the location may not be up-to-date if the individual was recently incarcerated or is being transferred between institutions. Because of the complicated intake process in California, which ultimately determines location, the internet won’t help you in this situation. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. can explain the process of locating an inmate in more detail, so contact our office at (310) 424-5816 to schedule a free consultation.

Reception into the California State Prison Inmate System

The first step after an inmate is ordered for incarceration is reception, which involves multiple stages.

Inmate Placement

During this phase, the state’s Unit Classification Committee (UCC) reviews details of the inmate’s case history and other relevant factors, such as:

  • Age
  • Type of crime
  • Whether the offense involved violence
  • Prior criminal history
  • Gang involvement

An inmate accumulates points for every factor that applies to them, and others for the circumstances surrounding the crime. The UCC tallies the points to come up with a placement score.

How Placement Scores Affect the Location of a California State Prison Inmate

The goal of assigning points is to provide an Inmate Placement Security Level, which will determine the type of facility and accommodation arrangements that are necessary under the circumstances.

A Level I security level means an inmate will be placed in a facility that features low security and a mostly open, dormitory-style living arrangement. Individuals with scores ranging from 0-18 may qualify for this security level. When an inmate scores between 19-35 points, Level II applies. The institution is also mostly open, but there is armed coverage in certain areas. Level III describes a facility with a highly secure perimeter, protected by armed guards. Inmate cells are adjacent to exterior walls. The scoring range for this level is 36-59. Top security arrangements fall under Level IV, which applies to inmates that score at 60 points and above. The institution’s perimeter is extremely secure, and there are armed guards at the interior and exterior. Because it’s the highest security level, there is an interior gap between inmate cells and the exterior.

From start to finish, the reception process can take up to 120 days. Once completed, the inmate is transferred to an appropriate institution that can provide accommodations and suitable programs. The information is entered into the Inmate Locator website, which you can search to find their location.

Determining Location After Initial Placement

Every year, the UCC also conducts a review on every California State Prison inmate to determine whether there’s any reason to adjust the placement score. It’s possible to reduce the score for good behavior and avoiding any trouble while incarcerated. Of course, an inmate can also increase their score through misconduct and disciplinary actions.

Depending on how officials rule on placement scores, the location of an inmate may change. An inmate may be transferred within the prison system to the appropriate security Levels I through IV.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer to Learn More

Regardless of your reasons for looking up a California state prison inmate, it’s important to understand the factors that determine where they end up, and where they could be going. If you’d like more information on inmate location and how the state prison system works, call Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816, or reach out via our online form to schedule a free, initial evaluation of your case.

Categories: Criminal Law

Can I Appeal a DUI Conviction?

Published on January 15, 2019

Things may seem hopeless if you’ve been convicted of a DUI in California, but a guilty verdict doesn’t necessarily mean that your case is over. You may be able to appeal the ruling, which is a request to have a higher court review the trial proceedings and correct certain types of mistakes. There are strict rules established for appeals, especially as they relate to how and why you can appeal a DUI conviction.

At Spolin Law P.C., our Los Angeles appeals attorneys are well-versed on the grounds for taking a DUI conviction to an appellate court. Our team has in-depth knowledge of the appeals process, which involves drafting briefs and presenting arguments to appeals judges. To learn about how we fight for the rights of clients who were wrongfully convicted of DUI, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Grounds for Appealing a DUI in California

There’s a common misconception that an appeal is similar to a second trial, where the court reconsiders the facts and circumstances of a conviction. However, appellate courts can only hear cases in which a legal error occurred during trial proceedings. Some of the familiar elements of a trial are noticeably missing, such as:

Witnesses

Neither your attorney or the prosecutor can bring in witnesses to testify before the appellate court. You cannot have someone testify again, nor can you introduce a new witness that was not available for your trial.

Evidence

No evidence will be presented during an appeal, so you cannot present any information or documents that weren’t introduced during your trial.

Both of these components relate to the facts of the case, and it’s not the job of the appellate court to assess any factual issues. The only item the judges will review on appeal is the record of the trial proceedings, which is a document describing everything that happened during your trial.

Factors an Appeals Court Will Consider

Since appellate courts focus on legal errors, the judges will review the trial record to assess issues raised by your appeals lawyer. Examples include:

  • Misconduct by your defense lawyer or the prosecutor
  • Illegally-obtained evidence was allowed in violation of your civil rights
  • Members of the jury disregarded the instructions of the judge
  • Evidence in your favor was erroneously suppressed
  • Other circumstances involving a legal mistake, as opposed to a factual error

What an Appellate Court Decision Means for Your DUI Case

The appeals process doesn’t result in your DUI conviction automatically being reversed. Even after you convince a judge that there was a legal error, you still need to show that the mistake was instrumental in the outcome in your case. For instance:

Example #1

You discovered that the prosecutor is close friends with the police officer that arrested you and testified at your DUI trial. The prosecution often gives the officer extravagant gifts under circumstances that suggest payment for the officer’s testimony. However, the jury also heard evidence that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was over the legal limit, according to an official breathalyzer test and a blood test. Though there may have been prosecutorial misconduct, there was still enough evidence to convict you on DUI charges.

Example #2

At trial, the prosecution introduced BAC test results showing that you were over the legal limit. Your criminal defense attorney objected on the grounds that the breathalyzer test was administered by an individual who had no training, so the results weren’t accurate. The judge allowed the false BAC test, which was the only evidence presented by the prosecutor.

Contact a Los Angeles Appeals Lawyer for Help

Though this overview of DUI appeals in California may be helpful, it’s no substitute for the assistance an experienced lawyer can provide. For more information on your appeals options, call Spolin Law P.C. right away to schedule a free case consultation. You can reach our firm by calling at (310) 424-5816, or via our website.

Categories: Appeals, DUI

Attorney & Practice Magazine Ranks Spolin Law P.C. Among Top 10 Criminal Law Firms

Published on January 1, 2019

Spolin Law P.C. is pleased to announce that Attorney and Practice Magazine has ranked Spolin Law among the top 10 criminal law firms in California.

The following are excerpts from the magazine’s selection letter:

Attorney and Practice Magazine ranked Spolin Law P.C. among the top 10 criminal law firms in California

Attorney and Practice Magazine ranked Spolin Law P.C. among the top 10 criminal law firms in California.

Attorney and Practice Magazine is a quarterly publication “addressing law firm management, attorney well-being, work/life balance, and the ever changing technology that impacts your practice. When making our 2019 Top 10 Attorney list, we considered degree and/or advance degrees, years practicing criminal law, awards received, online reputation, professional associations and activities in those associations, publications, and/or speaking engagements. Our Top 10 list recognizes dynamic attorneys who have achieved and continue to maintain the highest standards of excellence. Our list recognizes the significant achievements of those attorneys whose practice elevates the standards of their State’s Bar as well as provide a benchmark for other practitioners. Our goal is to exhibit and promote excellence in attorney practice and management as well as recognize criminal defense practitioners who likewise also demonstrate these qualifies and ideals…. Because of our stringent standards, less than 1% of attorneys nationwide will receive this invitation.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Is Your Criminal Case Eligible for Appeal in Los Angeles?

Published on December 26, 2018

If you are convicted of a crime in Los Angeles, you may want to appeal, and you may assume that you can. However, the matter isn’t that simple. Not everyone has the right to appeal a criminal conviction or sentence. In fact, you have to fulfill several requirements in order to have the standing to appeal. If you lack one of the requirements, your appeal will be dismissed. You also have to prove there was a legal mistake made during your trial, which warrants a different outcome than the one that was reached.

When you do have the right to a criminal case appeal, you need to file the paperwork quickly. There are deadlines in place to ensure appeals are not filed years after the fact. It is essential you speak with a Los Angeles appeals lawyer as soon as possible after your conviction. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney with years of appeals experience, contact Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816.

Requirements to File a Criminal Case Appeal

There are several requirements you must meet to be eligible to file a criminal case appeal. Questions to ask yourself as you review these requirements include:

Are your rights affected?

For you to be able to appeal, the law requires you to be an aggrieved party. This means that the criminal court’s decision has impacted your rights or cost you money. An example of this is if a court required you to pay restitution to an alleged victim.

Was there a final judgment?

The next requirement is directed toward what you may appeal. Typically, you may only appeal a final judgment. During a criminal court case, a judge may make several decisions regarding motions filed by the prosecution and defense attorneys. These are not final judgments regarding your overall case. However, after your trial, if the judge determines you are guilty of a crime, this is a final judgment. Therefore, it may be appealed.

Can you prove a legal error occurred?

You must have grounds to appeal a final judgment. To have any hope of altering the court’s decision, you need to be able to show that a legal error occurred during your trial. California appellate courts are not concerned with whether or not you think the conviction or sentence is fair. They are concerned with whether every aspect of your trial, conviction, and sentence was within the law. They will review the trial court proceedings for whether or not a legal mistake was made by the prosecutor, judge, or your defense attorney.

Common legal errors include:

  • A prosecutor acted in an unethical manner
  • A judge improperly admitting or excluding evidence
  • A judge improperly instructing the jury
  • A judge abused their discretion when sentencing you
  • Your defense attorney provided ineffective counsel
  • Jury misconduct

Can you show the legal error was prejudicial?

It is not enough that a mistake of law occurred during your criminal trial. You also have to be able to show that the legal error was so important that it impacted the outcome of your case. For example, you may believe that if a certain piece of evidence had not been excluded, you would not have been found guilty. That piece of evidence would have created reasonable doubt in your case.

When did your final judgment occur?

In California, there are different deadlines for different types of appeals and post-conviction relief. For the most traditional type of appeal, a “direct appeal,” you must file your notice to appeal within 60 days of the date of the felony conviction or sentence. If you wish to file a misdemeanor appeal, there is a deadline of 30 days. Other types of appeals and post-conviction relief can be filed later than that time period. For example, a California Writ of Habeas Corpus must be filed without undue delay after the discovery of the issue giving rise to the writ. Another type of post-conviction relief, an Application for Commutation of Sentence, has no deadline and can be filed with the executive branch at any time after sentencing.

If you are not confident in your original attorney’s knowledge, skills, or methods, or your previous attorney does not handle appeals, then you need to retain the help of a Los Angeles appeals lawyer. Once you find a new attorney, have them review your case, decide whether or not to appeal, and file the paperwork all in the appropriate amount of time.

Let Spolin Law P.C. Help You With a Criminal Case Appeal

When you wish to appeal a criminal case in Los Angeles, you must ask yourself a number of questions. Do you have enough time? Was there an error of law in your original case? Was there a final judgment? For help in answering these questions, and to learn more about your eligibility for appeal, contact a Los Angeles appeals lawyer from Spolin Law P.C. right away.

To schedule a free case consultation, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Appeals, Criminal Law

UCLA Student Crystal T. Huynh Wins 2018 Spolin Law P.C. Scholarship

Published on November 29, 2018

Spolin Law P.C. is pleased to announce the winner of their 2018 Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship – Crystal T. Huynh. A student at the University of California – Los Angeles, Ms. Huynh will receive $1,000 towards her tuition and educational fees from Spolin Law P.C..

Ms. Huynh was chosen based on her application, academic record, essay, and commitment to and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution. As a first-generation American, Ms. Huynh recognizes that she is lucky to live in a country where she can express herself freely, and not live in fear of a government controlling or taking away her liberties. As she writes in her essay, “I am able to fully appreciate the way I am able to live my life because of this document. I can live in a society where my civil liberties are protected and not all people can say that. The Constitution is written proof of this and I am incredibly grateful for it.”

Ms. Huynh’s winning essay is listed below:


As stated in the Preamble, the U.S. Constitution was created to provide the people of the United States of America a government that would protect its citizens in both internal and external affairs for multiple generations. Americans would be able to live in a society where they had a set government that existed to serve them rather than take advantage of them. Throughout the years the Constitution has been amended to serve and protect every type of American. As a first generation American, I am no exception. If anything, the U.S. Constitution means more to me than Americans whose families have lived in this country for multiple generations because I get to see firsthand the difference between what this country provides for me and what my family’s birth country provides. I am able to have a better understanding of the Constitution because I know that I am both lucky and grateful to have it be the foundation of my country. For me, the U.S. Constitution means that I am able to live my life freely and equally because the government protects my civil liberties.

The Articles of the Constitution were written to establish the branches of government as well as to set guidelines for the states, for amending the Constitution, and for the country itself. To me, this means that I am represented in the government through my state’s representatives. My concerns are delivered all the way to the federal government to be heard. I have a say in who leads this country through elections. My liberties are preserved no matter which state I am in. I can influence change in the Constitution to fit current societal standards. These may seem like normal benefits that every American has, but to me they mean so much more because of the fact I am a first generation American.

My parents came from a country that controlled the people instead of protecting them. They had no voice and they were forced to live a life that they thought was wrong. The stories and lessons they told me made me realize how lucky I was to be in a country that put its citizens first. I do not have to live in fear of the government controlling the people because Articles 1 through 3 the Constitution established three branches that balance each other out. I do not have to worry about one state being more politically safe than another because Article 4 of the Constitution states that all states will honor the laws of all other states. I do not have to worry about living by past beliefs because Article 5 of the Constitution details guidelines on amending the Constitution. I do not have to think about my liberties being taken away because Article 6 states that the Constitution, along with all laws and treatise of the U.S., to be the supreme law of the land. If I was living in my parent’s birth country, these Articles would not exist and I would be living in constant fear. This part of the Constitution to me means that my parents sacrificed everything to come to this country to allow me to live freely without fear.

The Constitution also includes the many Amendments that details the civil liberties that every American has. I am allowed to freely speak, vote, and even protect myself against the government if officials improperly search my property or cruelly punish me thanks to the Amendments in the Bill of Rights, the Civil War Amendments, and the 26th Amendment. These Amendments are there to protect my liberties from being taken away from the government. They allow the people to retain some power so that the government cannot fully control them like in a dictatorship. Other Amendments such as the 17th Amendment give citizens more political power so that the government does not become corrupt. Not only do I have a voice in the government through someone who represents me, I get to help choose that representative. These Amendments give people the power to move society, and I am able to have a part in all this because of the Constitution.

The Amendments of the Constitution to me mean that I have the right to stand up for myself, something that my parents could not do in their birth country. I do not have to worry about saying the wrong thing in public or not being able to vote because of who I am. I do not have to worry about the government not caring about its citizens and staying in power because there is no way to vote them out. I do not have to be living a lifeless life filled with worry and fear of the government. Thanks to my parents, I get to live in a country whose Constitution protects its citizens, and I am reminded every day of how lucky I am compared to my parents. I do not have to face the hardships they did when they were younger because of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution means I can just live my life while being a part of society, and that is truly a gift for which I am grateful for.

As a first generation American, I grew up listening to the childhood stories of my parents who lived in a different country. Comparing life in their birth country to the U.S., I did not realize how powerful a document like the U.S. Constitution could be in creating the foundation of a society where the government serves to protect its citizens rather than harm them. I am able to fully appreciate the way I am able to live my life because of this document. I can live in a society where my civil liberties are protected and not all people can say that. The Constitution is written proof of this and I am incredibly grateful for it. It means the world to me that I get to live my life freely and it is all because of the U.S. Constitution.


Spolin Law P.C. selected a second student as an honorable mention in acknowledgment of her application and supplemental material:

  • Honorable Mention – Chloe Stoddard, Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

We sincerely appreciate all of this year’s applicants and the hard work they put into their applications. If you have an interest in applying for next year’s scholarship, the deadline is October 1, 2019.

Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Appeals and Civil Rights Attorney

If you’ve been accused of committing a criminal offense in Southern California, or already convicted, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Contact a lawyer from Spolin Law P.C. for help. The Los Angeles criminal law attorneys at our firm have years of experience handling a wide variety of cases, and we are dedicated to ensuring our clients’ rights remain protected throughout the entire criminal justice process. To schedule a free and confidential consultation of your case, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Scholarship

What You Should Know About the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act

Published on November 28, 2018

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime and the prosecutor is accusing you of being a gang member, you need to contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney right away. Contact our award-winning criminal attorneys by calling 310-424-5816 to schedule a free consultation today.

In California, it is illegal to be a member of a gang because of the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (also known as the STEP Act). Outlined in Penal Code §186.22, the STEP Act makes it a substantive crime to be an active participant in any criminal street gang. It also creates a sentencing enhancement for felonies committed for the benefit of the gang.

If you can be connected to any street gang in California, then you face harsh charges and penalties. You need to work with an experienced and aggressive Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. To schedule a free and confidential consultation of your case, contact us today at 310-424-5816.

The Crime of Being a Gang Member

To combat street terrorism in California in the 1980s, the state legislature enacted the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act. From the Act, lawmakers decided to punish someone for being a member of a gang in addition to any crime that person may have committed.

Under Penal Code (PC) §186.22(a), if you actively participate in any criminal street gang, with knowledge of its criminal, and who promotes criminal conduct by the gang members, you can a criminal conviction. Street terrorism is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As such, you can be punished with up to one year in a county jail or 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison.

What is a Street Gang?

The Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act definition of a criminal street gang is vital when it comes to whether you can be charged with an offense under the law or face a sentence enhancement.

Under PC §186.22(f), a criminal street gang is any continuous, formal (or informal) group with three or more people whose main activity is “committing one or more of the predicate crimes,” who have a common name/symbol, and who participate in criminal activities on a regular basis.

Listed in PC §186.22(e)(1)-(33), predicate crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Assault
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Homicide and manslaughter
  • Drug crimes
  • Gun crimes
  • Money laundering
  • Extortion
  • Credit card crimes

Many of these offenses are considered common street gang offenses. If you face accusations of assaulting someone with a deadly weapon, causing great bodily harm, sexual battery or rape, illegal possession of a firearm, illegally discharging a gun, or trafficking drugs, the prosecutor may try to connect you to a gang so that they can punish you more severely.

Sentencing Enhancements for Gang-Related Crimes

Under Penal Code §186.22(b)(1), if you committed a crime in relation to a gang, and did so because you are in a gang, then the prosecutor is going to seek a sentence enhancement. At the court’s discretion, you can face an additional two, three, or four years in prison. Depending on the severity of your offense, the sentence could even increase by five to 10 years.

Alternative Sentencing for Public Offenses Committed to Benefit a Gang

In 2000, California passed Proposition 21. This proposition created an alternative sentencing scheme for certain gang-related offenses. Now, under PC §186.22(d), if you are convicted of a public offense, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony, and said crime was committed for a gang, you can face a felony punishment and additional incarceration. You can then face one year in county jail, or one, two, or three years in prison. However, if a misdemeanor public offense becomes a felony crime under the law, then the prosecutor cannot also add a gang-related sentencing enhancement.

Have You Been Charged With a Crime Under the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act? Contact Us for Help

If you or a loved one have been accused of committing a gang crime or are facing a sentencing enhancement for an alleged street terrorism offense, you need an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney to represent you. At Spolin Law P.C., we are experienced with charges under the STEP Act. Let us defend you. We will fight for you to not face gang-related charges. We will also strive to mitigate the consequences of any possible conviction.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us online or call us today at 310-424-5816 to schedule a free, initial evaluation of your case.

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