Winning Your Appeal

Attorney Aaron Spolin

Spolin Law P.C. is led by award-winning appeals attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin. One of his most recent successful outcomes was on a murder case sent to the state’s highest court.

Winning an appeal requires skillful representation. Spolin Law P.C. forcefully fights for its clients by carrying out the below steps, when appropriate.

  • Find Mistakes and Errors in Trial and Pretrial Hearings: We pour through the record of every single step that occurred in our clients’ cases, including a review of every word that was stated on the record through hearings and trial. Our goal is to find: (1) mistakes made by your trial lawyer, (2) improper statements from the prosecutor, and (3) errors made by the judge. Certain mistakes and errors will have violated our clients’ rights, and this leads to strong arguments on appeal.
  • Argue California Law and U.S. Constitutional Law: The appeals attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. are aware of literally thousands of arguments that can be made on appeal. These are based on California statutes and regulations, California “case law,” and United States constitutional law. See the section “Arguments That Can Overturn Convictions” below to learn more about the arguments that Spolin Law P.C. may be able to include in an appeal.
  • Describe Full or Partial Innocence of Client: An appeal is essentially a formal legal request to a judge, who is a human being with compassion. Therefore, we describe how our client is not only legally entitled to win but also (if the facts support it) how the client is actually innocent of all or some of the charges. This presentation of our client as a decent human being can help show how our case is not simply a “technical” legal issue.
  • Seek Client’s Release on Bail During Appeal: Two types of legal motions can allow a client to be released from custody during the appeal. Such a release can be either without a bail requirement or with bail. See the “Getting Released on Bail” section to learn more.

These steps are some of the reasons why Spolin Law P.C. has obtained successful outcomes from the California Courts of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. To learn more about how we can fight and potentially win your case, call us for a free consultation at (310) 424-5816.

  1. Winning Your Appeal
  2. Appeal Deadlines
  3. Arguments That Can Overturn Convictions
  4. The Appeal (and Writ) Process
  5. The Importance of the Appeals Lawyer

Criminal Appeal Deadlines

The deadline to appeal a criminal case comes extremely quickly. Defendants seeking to appeal a conviction or other outcome must contact an appeals attorney immediately. Often an appeals attorney will file a “Notice of Appeal” before the deadline and then ask for a longer period of time to review the entire case and submit the final appeal. However, if the proper notices and motions are not filed on time, the appeal could be automatically lost. This is true even if there is a good basis for the appeal. Therefore, if you wish to file an appeal, you must contact an appeals attorney right away so that you do not accidentally miss any deadline for the case.

To learn more about the urgency of your criminal appeal, and for a free consultation regarding your criminal appeal case, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (310) 424-5816.

Getting Released on Bail During Appeal

Spolin Law P.C. attorneys are able to file “bail and/or release” motions seeking lowered bail or the release of a client who is appealing his or her conviction. CA Penal Code section 1272.1 states that a court must release a convicted defendant on bail if certain criteria are met. If the trial court grants this motion, the client will either be released without bail or given the opportunity to pay bail in exchange for release during the course of the appeal. Release on bail is important because appeals often take 1-2 years. If the trial court denies the release motion or sets bail too high, a similar motion can be filed in the appeals court requesting release or a reduction of bail.

To find out if a bail motion is appropriate in your case, contact an attorney at Spolin Law P.C.

  1. Winning Your Appeal
  2. Appeal Deadlines
  3. Arguments That Can Overturn Convictions
  4. The Appeal (and Writ) Process
  5. The Importance of the Appeals Lawyer

Arguments That Can Overturn Convictions

The attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. are aware of literally thousands of arguments that can be made on appeal. Any one argument can result in the overturning of a conviction.

The following list includes some of the most common arguments that we would expect to use in criminal appeals.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Ineffective assistance of counsel refers to a situation where the defendant had a bad trial lawyer. An ineffective assistance of counsel argument will be accepted where the trial lawyer was so below the professional standards for a lawyer that what he or she did was “unreasonable,” and resulted in an unfavorable outcome. For example, a trial attorney’s failure to object to improper testimony could lead to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim.
Improper Admission of Character Evidence
California’s rules of evidence generally prohibit evidence about a defendant’s character used to prove that he or she committed a crime. Typically, this means that the prosecution cannot ask witnesses for their opinions about the defendant’s character (for example, is the defendant trustworthy?) or introduce evidence of prior bad acts (for instance, bank records of a hot check).
Improper “Burden Shifting” of the Prosecutor
In a criminal trial, the prosecution has the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But sometimes, the prosecution will try to “shift” the burden of proof, suggesting to the jury that the defendant must instead prove his or her innocence. For example, in a homicide trial, the prosecution may argue that the defendant must prove he or she acted in self-defense, even though California law requires that the prosecution disprove self-defense.
Legally Faulty Jury Instructions
At the end of a jury trial, the judge will give the jury instructions about the law and the jury’s role in resolving the case they just observed. Although typically modeled after the Judicial Council of California’s standardized Criminal Jury Instructions, ultimately what instructions a judge gives is up to that judge and the lawyers in the case. If a conviction is based on faulty instructions provided over the defendant’s objection, then the conviction can be reversed on appeal.
Improper Exclusion of a Witness
Defendants are legally entitled to present evidence, including witness testimony, to the jury in an attempt to prove their innocence or otherwise call into question the charges against them. If a judge improperly excludes a witness who would have testified on the defendant’s behalf, the defendant can appeal that exclusion after trial.
Improper Limitation of Cross Examination
The U.S. Supreme Court has referred to cross-examination as the greatest legal engine for the discovery of truth. In a criminal trial, the defendant’s right to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. An appellate court will overturn a conviction if the trial court restricted the defendant’s cross-examination of a witness for no good reason.
Improper Admission of Defendant’s Statement or Confession
Courts are limited in how they can admit out-of-court statements and confessions by a criminal defendant. These limitations stem from a defendant’s right against self-incrimination (described below), right to cross-examine witnesses against him or her, and rules of evidence regarding hearsay. A convicted defendant can challenge his or her conviction if the court allows evidence of a statement or admission that violates those limits.
Denial of Attorney of Choice
The Sixth Amendment protects a criminal defendant’s right to counsel. If the defendant can’t afford to hire a lawyer, the court hearing his or her case must appoint one. If the defendant can afford to hire a lawyer, then the court usually must respect his or her choice of counsel. In that event, a defendant can appeal if the trial court refused to let him or her be represented by the lawyer of his or her choice.
Improper Denial of Suppression Motion
When the police or prosecution obtain evidence in a way that violates a defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the defendant can ask the judge to exclude (or “suppress”) that evidence. For instance, if police find evidence of a crime while searching a suspect’s home without a warrant, that evidence should generally be excluded from trial. If the court fails to do so, that decision can be overturned on appeal.
Insufficient Probable Cause
Before police can obtain a search or arrest warrant in California, they must demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause to believe that they will find evidence of a crime or that the person to be arrested committed a crime. Probable cause is a low bar, and police can usually satisfy it with ease. However, if there was no probable cause from the outset, then the entire process may be tainted, and an appellate court may reverse any resulting conviction.
Improper Admission of Faulty Line-Up Procedure
In a line-up, police place several individuals in a line and ask a witness to a crime if he or she recognizes any of the individuals as the person who committed the crime. An identification made during a line-up may be especially persuasive to a jury. However, line-ups are often suggestive and can lead to false identifications. In that event, a court’s decision to admit evidence from the line-up can be challenged on appeal.
Violation of Defendant’s Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination
The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from compelling a criminal defendant to be a witness against him – or herself. This protects a defendant from being called as a witness in his or her own case, but it also requires that certain procedures be followed by the police or prosecution in questioning a suspect. Failure to follow those procedures can undercut a conviction’s validity.
Double Jeopardy
The Fifth Amendment also protects defendants against being “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same crime. That means that the prosecution can’t try to convict a defendant for a crime after a jury acquits him or her and can’t try to increase a defendant’s sentence by trying him or her again for the same crime following conviction.
Violation of Speedy Trial Right
The California Constitution and U.S. Constitution both guarantee a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial. This right ensures that a person charged with a crime receives a trial within a reasonable amount of time after being arrested or charged. Otherwise, the case against the defendant should be dismissed, and failure by the trial court to dismiss can be appealed if the defendant is convicted.
Judge Incorrectly Joined Case with Co-Defendant
When two or more people are jointly charged with a crime, California law generally requires that they be tried jointly. However, in some circumstances a joint trial would prejudice the rights of one or more co-defendants, in which case the court should hold separate trials for them. For instance, if one co-defendant has confessed, the co-defendants wish to pursue conflicting defenses, or a co-defendant may provide exonerating testimony at a separate trial, then the trial court should sever their cases.
Denial of Jury Trial
Criminal cases can be decided either by a judge or a jury. But the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally requires that a criminal defendant be given a jury trial if he or she wants one. If a judge conducts a bench trial (trial without a jury) or decides critical questions of fact for themself in a jury trial, rather than submitting them to the jury, then the defendant’s right to trial by jury has been violated.
Insufficient Evidence for a Conviction
As noted earlier, the prosecution must prove the state’s case against a criminal defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite a guilty verdict from the jury, an appellate court will overturn a conviction if the evidence presented at trial was actually insufficient to support that verdict.
Defendant was Not Mentally Competent for Trial
A person cannot be tried for a crime while he or she is mentally incompetent. A court will accept this argument if, at the time of trial, as a result of a mental disorder or developmental disability, the defendant was unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or to assist his or her lawyer in conducting the defense in a rational manner.
Unconstitutionally Broad Statute Defining Offense
Crimes are defined by statutes. The constitutional guarantee of due process requires that those statutes be clear enough to give people notice of what conduct crosses the line from legal to criminal behavior. If a criminal statute is too broad (i.e., too vague), then a conviction for violating it will be overturned.
Statute Resulting in Conviction Abridged First-Amendment Rights
Statutes can be unconstitutional in other, more obvious ways, such as when they violate the First Amendment. If a criminal law abridges the freedom of speech or of the press, then any defendant prosecuted under the law can challenge it on that basis in the trial court or on appeal.
Judge Improperly Closed Courtroom During Trial
Defendants in a criminal case have a constitutional right to a public trial. That means that the trial must be open to the general public at all times, including during pretrial hearings, unless a court can show that excluding the public was necessary to protect some higher value, such as the right to a fair trial.
Improper Interference with Jury Deliberations
At the end of a trial, the jury will engage in deliberations—private discussions among the jurors to determine what the verdict will be. California law prohibits the judge and the lawyers in the case from communicating with the jury during deliberations, except that the judge may communicate with the jury in open court following notice to the lawyers. Failure to follow that rule will lead to reversal on appeal.
Actual Innocence
A convicted defendant can sometimes challenge his or her conviction because he or she is actually innocent. This challenge may be raised in different ways: First, the defendant can argue on appeal that the evidence of guilt at trial was inadequate or evidence of innocence was conclusive. Additionally, the defendant may be able to petition for a writ of habeas corpus (discussed below) if new evidence of innocence is found after the time for appeal has expired.
Sentencing Error by Judge
The punishments that a judge can impose on a person convicted of a crime are determined by law. Unfortunately, judges sometimes impose sentences that are overly harsh compared to what the law allows. If successfully appealed on this basis, the reviewing court will only overturn the sentence, not the conviction.
  • Charges Were Filed After Statute of Limitations
  • Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction
  • Improper Denial of Change of Venue Motion
  • Speedy Trial Right Violation of P.C. Section 1382
  • Speedy Trial Right Violation of U.S. Constitution, Amendment VI
  • Speedy Trial Right Violation of California Constitution, Art. I, Section 15
  • Defendant Improperly Restrained in Front of Jury
  • Jury Improperly Allowed to See Shackles, Handcuffs, or Jail Clothes of Defendant
  • Jury Improperly Allowed to See Shackles, Handcuffs, or Jail Clothes of Defendant
  • Defendant was Excluded from Courtroom for Portions of the Trial
  • Judge Communicated to Jury Without Defense Counsel Present
  • Improper Admission of Confession Following Failure to Give Miranda Warnings
  • Improper Ruling on Motion Related to Sufficiency of Warrant
  • Improper Ruling on Motion Related to Identification Procedures
  • Denial of Counsel’s Presence at a Critical Stage of Court Proceedings
  • Trial Attorney Had Conflict of Interest
  • Defendant Denied Right of Self Representation
  • Statute Providing Basis for Conviction was Intended to Protect Defendant
  • Defendant was Unduly Prejudiced by Pretrial or Trial Publicity
  • Prosecutor Challenged a Juror Due to Juror’s Race/Gender/etc.
  • Judge’s Ruling on Expert Testimony was Incorrect
  • Judge Failed to Give a Required Jury Instruction
  • Jury Verdict Form was Improper or Improperly Filled Out
  • Prosecutor Committed “Golden Rule” Violation in Argument
  • Prosecutor Failed to Disclose Exculpatory Evidence
  • Prosecutor Failed to Disclose Relevant Information About a Witness

Contact Spolin Law P.C. to learn more about these arguments and whether they, or others, apply to your case. Our office line is (310) 424-5816.

  1. Winning Your Appeal
  2. Appeal Deadlines
  3. Arguments That Can Overturn Convictions
  4. The Appeal (and Writ) Process
  5. The Importance of the Appeals Lawyer

The Appeal & Writ Process

Spolin Law P.C. files criminal appeals as well as criminal “writs.” This section discusses the appeals process and then goes on to discuss how a writ works.

The Appeal Process

  • Notice of Appeal — This initial document tells the court that an appeal will be filed. Depending on the nature of your case and the facts surrounding your need to appeal, this date may vary. A notice of appeal is the first step in the process to get a conviction overturned, so you will need to work closely with your criminal appeals lawyer to ensure that this document is filed in a timely manner. If it is not filed on time, then you cannot file an appeal.
  • Transcript Preparation — Once you and your attorney submit a notice of appeal, the Superior Court is required to compile two files: the reporter’s transcript and the clerk’s transcript. These records will provide documentation of everything said during your initial case in addition to all other documents and exhibits used during those proceedings. If you or your appellate attorney notice material is missing from these transcripts, you can request to have it added to the appeal record.
  • Opening Brief — This is the first opportunity your attorney will have to explain to the higher court why you’re entitled to an appeal. This proceeding is lengthy in nature, as it includes a thorough review of the initial ruling in your case, court records, and rules and statutes that show the lower court’s errors in your initial trial. Because of the detail required during this step of the process, you must remain in constant communication with your criminal appeals attorney to make sure that all of the necessary information is included.
  • Respondent’s Brief — In a criminal appeal by a defendant, the respondent is the prosecution. Their brief is filed in response to your opening brief, and it is used to illustrate that any legal errors that allegedly occurred were warranted and did not affect the outcome of your original case.
  • Reply Brief — During the appeals process, the burden of proof remains on the defendant. If you need to submit a second brief in response to the brief submitted by the prosecution, your attorney can do so if you desire. In this document, your attorney is not permitted to raise new issues. You are only permitted to respond to the points brought up in the respondent’s brief. There is a time limit for when response briefs must be filed, so make sure to speak with your appellate attorney as soon as you can so you don’t miss this deadline.
  • Oral Argument (sometimes) — An appeal may not take place entirely on paper. The process allows for your attorney to orally defend you in court and present your position to the higher court. These hearings are short, so it is important to not reiterate the facts stated in the briefs; your attorney should instead spend the time explaining the important parts of the brief(s) and answering any questions that arise.
  • Petition for Rehearing — If you aren’t happy with the decision of the higher court, you can request a rehearing. This must be done shortly after the appeal court’s ruling, so speak with your criminal appeals lawyer immediately if you are considering this option.
  • Petition for Review — After an announcement is made by the appeal court, both you and the prosecution can submit a request to the Supreme Court for review of the case. This motion must be acted upon shortly after the appeals court’s decision. You don’t need a petition for rehearing in order to submit a petition for review, but it is required if you wish to challenge the appeals court’s declaration of facts and issues in your appeal.

You can learn more about the appeals process by scheduling a free consultation with Spolin Law P.C.

The “Writ” Process

A “writ” is similar to an appeal except that it usually argues an issue that cannot be argued in a normal direct appeal.

A direct appeal generally cannot reference information that is outside the court record of the trial. Therefore, for example, if a defense attorney made mistakes during the trial and the mistakes are in the record, a direct appeal would likely be appropriate; however, if an attorney took inappropriate steps outside of court and his/her mistakes are not in the court record, a writ of habeas corpus may be appropriate.

Common writs include:

  • Writ of Habeas Corpus — This is the most common type of writ, and it is used to challenge the detention and incarceration of an inmate. It is frequently used to raise issues that cannot be raised in direct appeal. Writs of habeas corpus allege a violation of the defendant’s constitutional or statutory rights.
  • Writ of Mandamus — Tells a court or public official to take a particular action.
  • Writ of Prohibition — Tells a court or public official to not take a specific action.
  • Writ of Certiorari — Allows certain appellate courts to hear appeals from lower courts.
  • Writ of Quo Warranto — Permits states to challenge the use of public office(s).
  • Writ of Error Coram Nobis — Permits court to correct a fundamental error that did not appear in the record.

Writs are a powerful tool that can result in a court ordering the immediate release of a defendant, a new trial, further proceedings in lower courts, or any number of other outcomes.

To learn whether a writ may be used in your case, contact an attorney at Spolin Law P.C. by calling (310) 424-5816.

  1. Winning Your Appeal
  2. Appeal Deadlines
  3. Arguments That Can Overturn Convictions
  4. The Appeal (and Writ) Process
  5. The Importance of the Appeals Lawyer

The Importance of the Appeals Lawyer

Spolin Law P.C. Logo

Spolin Law P.C. is one of the leading criminal appeals and post-conviction firms in the nation.

The attorney you choose can have a huge impact on the likelihood of success. Spolin Law P.C. is led by Aaron Spolin, a former prosecutor and award-winning criminal appeals lawyer. He is ranked in the top 1% of criminal law attorneys in California and is recognized as one of the “10 Best Criminal Law Attorneys” in California by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys.

An excellent appeals attorney can make a difference in several ways:

  • Discovering New Arguments: The better the attorney, the more arguments they will be able to discover through the case review. At Spolin Law P.C. we discover and raise arguments that other attorneys may have missed.
  • Analyzing the Record: The more thoroughly the appeals attorney reviews the record, the more appeal bases they can find. We investigate the entire trial and pre-trial record to find every legal basis for challenging the conviction.
  • Fighting to Win: Spolin Law P.C.’s success rate is based on our forceful desire to win each case we handle. The firm is led by former prosecutor Aaron Spolin (Princeton, BA; UC Berkeley, JD), an award-winning appeals attorney and former member of California Law Review. He has achieved successful outcomes on a wide variety of criminal and appellate cases, including a recent murder case sent to the California Supreme Court.

To learn what appeals options may be available on your case, contact Spolin Law P.C. for a free consultation. We are available at (310) 424-5816.