Legal Blog

Caitlin Dukes and Jeremy Cutcher Win 2022 California Legal Service Award

Published on December 30, 2022

Spolin Law is proud to announce the winner for the 2022 California Legal Service Award, and it’s a tie! The winners are attorneys Caitlin Dukes and Jeremy Cutcher.

The California Legal Service Award was created by Spolin Law P.C. to recognize outstanding work on California cases for the firm’s clients. The firm currently has five employee attorneys admitted to practice in California, as well as multiple independent contractor attorneys, so Ms. Dukes and Mr. Cutcher are standing out from the crowd.

Caitlin Dukes is receiving this award in recognition of her outstanding work on the Velasquez case (PA013483, Los Angeles County Superior Court), where she overturned the murder conviction of a client who had been serving what was effectively a life sentence in prison. Her work involved research, writing, regular communication with the client, and then winning the client’s freedom (along with two other attorneys who were involved in the case). When the client and his family came into the office after being released from prison, he made a note to ask about Ms. Dukes and pass along a heartfelt “Thank you!” for her incredible work on the case.

Jeremy Cutcher is receiving this award for his “above-and-beyond” July 5, 2022, oral argument in front of the Sixth Appellate District, where he responded to sharp judicial questioning with aplomb and presented the best possible advocacy for a client with a difficult case, eventually winning a remand and resentencing for the client from Justice Cynthia Lie (Justices Greenwood and Grover concurring). Mr. Cutcher has also gone above and beyond this past year by volunteering to train other employees on new aspects of the law, including trainings on federal writ deadlines, the major case People v. Christopher Strong, as well as a number of other topics. Mr. Cutcher’s trainings have been for both lawyer and nonlawyer employees of the firm. He has a reputation in the firm for this thoroughness and his ability to distill complex legal concepts into more understandable form.

The California Legal Service Award comes with a price of $500 per winner. Spolin Law P.C. congratulates both Ms. Dukes and Mr. Cutcher on their outstanding work.

Categories: Uncategorized

Felony Murder Client Released After Spending Decades in Prison

Published on December 23, 2022

Spolin Law attorney Don Nguyen recently won a California P.C. 1170.95 petition under SB 1437 for a client who was convicted of robbery and murder but was not the actual killer. Upon resentencing, the court ordered the client to be released from prison.

The client was convicted of crimes associated with a shooting in 1994. Although he was 17, he faced charges in adult court. Now in his 40s, the client has spent most of his adult life in prison. He has made great strides to rehabilitate himself and gain an education what will enable him to contribute to society upon release.

This client qualified for resentencing under Senate Bill (SB) 1437, which was passed in 2018 to update P.C. 1170.95. This law limits who can be prosecuted for felony murder, which involves the killing of a victim while in the process of another felony offense. Under SB 1437, individuals who were not the actual killer or did not ai and abet the unlawful killing with malice may be granted resentencing relief.

While Spolin Law’s client did participate in a robbery in the 1990s, he was not armed, nor was he the shooter. He waited until all patrons left the building before entering it. He had no reason to believe anyone would be harmed in the process of the robbery. The felony murder that occurred was not his intent, nor is he guilty of aiding and abetting the actual killer with malice. In fact, he actively worked to limit the risk to patrons at the establishment.

“Our client was convicted of a crime that he did not commit. His actions to avoid harm to others were rightfully considered by the court when deciding whether resentencing was appropriate. Now our client will be released and return to his family,” said award-winning post-conviction attorney Aaron Spolin, who leads Spolin Law P.C.

Spolin Law drafted a P.C. 1170.95 petition pointing out all the arguments that were favorable to their client. The prosecution was tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the client was not available for resentencing. In the end, they could not, and the court granted the P.C. 1170.95 petition under SB 1437, which resulted in release of the client.

After more than 25 years in prison, Spolin Law’s client will now be released to return to his family.

To learn more about SB 1437 and P.C. 1170.95 petitions, you should reach out to the post-conviction attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. We handle state and federal criminal appeals and post-conviction matters. We will evaluate your case and help you understand your options. Call us today at (310) 409-4453.

Categories: Uncategorized

Spolin Law Client Gets Sentence Reduced Through SB 1437 Relief

Published on December 22, 2022

A Spolin Law P.C. client’s prison sentence was recently reduced to only four years after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and being sentenced to 16 years.

The client pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in a case where he admitted he “aided and abetted the unlawful killing of the victim without malice.” Since the client was not the actual killer and did not act with malice aforethought, he qualified for relief under Senate Bill (SB) 1437.

SB 1437 allows for resentencing consideration for inmates who were convicted of certain types of murder but were not the actual killer. They must not have acted with the intent to kill. They cannot have been a major participant in the crime or have acted with reckless indifference for human life. The client met all those requirements.

Spolin Law P.C. filed a strong application for SB 1437 relief, pointing out that there were many faults in the client’s case. For example, he was accused of being a gang member; however, the prosecution’s gang expert had never heard of the alleged gang and had never met the client personally. Thus, it was unlikely that the client acted purposefully for the benefit of this alleged gang.

Once the SB 1437 application was granted and the client’s sentence was to be reconsidered, attorney Don Nguyen began the complex task of negotiating with the prosecutor. The state often does not want to admit defeat, so it can be hard to get a lower sentence. However, attorney Nguyen was able to get a new plea offer of a lesser charge with a new sentence of four years.

“This case is a striking example of overreach by the prosecution and California prosecutors using gang membership to vicariously incarcerate other gang members who had no culpability in another gang member’s crime,” said award-winning post-conviction attorney Aaron Spolin, who leads Spolin Law.

Instead of sitting in prison for the next decade, this Spolin Law P.C. client will be released in 2025.

To speak with one of the attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. about SB 1437 or your case, please call us at (310) 409-4453. Our firm handles state and federal criminal appeals and post-conviction matters.

Categories: Uncategorized

Spolin Law Attorneys to Give Holiday Gift of $1,000 to Five Current and Former Clients

Published on December 1, 2022

In the spirit of the holidays, the lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. will be donating $1,000 to five of the firm’s current and former clients ($1,000 per client). These donations will go to the first five clients retaining the firm for an appeal during this holiday season.

Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin walking together

Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin are two of the Spolin Law attorneys participating in the firm’s 2022 holiday gift program.

[UPDATE: December 6, 2022: As of today, the first two donations have been given to two current clients: Anthony Wilson, located at California State Prison, Solano, in Solano, California; and Alberto Espinoza, located at the Wayne Scott Unit in Richmond, Texas].

“The holidays can be a hard time for inmates, especially those who are sitting in prison wrongfully convicted or who have families struggling to take the next step in fighting an unjust conviction,” said attorney Aaron Spolin. “Many current or former clients have opportunities to fight their case; we are hoping that these donations will help them achieve their goals.”

Another attorney echoed this sentiment: Jeremy Cutcher frequently finds himself on the phone with the firm’s California inmates. “This is a hard holiday season because of the economy, because of Covid, you name it. Helping people achieve hope and a positive outlook is crucial.”

The attorneys donating include, in alphabetical order, Jeremy Cutcher, Dan DeMaria, Caitlin Dukes, Annette Gifford, Don Nguyen, Angela Reaney, and Aaron Spolin. (All listed attorneys are admitted in at least one federal court, and some of the attorneys are admitted in various state courts where the firm practices).

This donation will either come in the form of a credit on the client’s account (reducing legal fees) or a payment made directly to the client or person of the client’s choosing (for clients where no further legal fees are owed).

 

Further questions about the holiday gift program may be directed to the firm’s case managers, who can be reached at (310) 424-5816.

Categories: Uncategorized

What Is Prosecutorial Misconduct?

Published on November 21, 2022

Video Transcript:

Prosecutorial misconduct can result in a criminal conviction being overturned. I’m a criminal appeals lawyer and I handle these types of cases. Essentially, prosecutorial misconduct is when the prosecutor commits misconduct, and what that means is when the prosecutor violates one of the rules about how there are certain rights defendants have. There are rules about what prosecutors are supposed to do and the rights that defendants have in a criminal case.

Some common examples of prosecutorial misconduct, things that have happened in prior cases and have resulted in convictions being overturned: One example is if the prosecutor is personally vouching for the truth of certain witnesses, trying to convince the jury that the prosecutor somehow knows who’s telling the truth and who isn’t telling the truth. Another example of prosecutorial misconduct that could overturn a conviction is what’s called a “Brady violation”, which means not turning over important evidence to the defense, evidence of innocence, evidence of how a witness has a criminal record or has a record showing that they are untrustworthy. That is considered a Brady violation. Another example of prosecutorial misconduct is when the prosecutor asks improper questions during cross-examination. For example, when cross-examining the defendant, ask questions to the defendant that are irrelevant to the case and would prejudice the jury. For example, asking questions about the defendant’s religious status if it has nothing to do with the case and it is solely to inflame the passions of the jury. Another example is if the prosecutor misstates the facts deliberately in front of the jury in an effort to sway them and get a guilty verdict in a way that is inconsistent with the facts. There are many, many other ways that prosecutors can commit misconduct.

Prosecutors are supposed to be agents of the court. They are supposed to be trustworthy, reliable. Our Criminal Justice System relies on their honesty and them doing the right thing. And so, in the cases that I’ve cited where the prosecutors have done the wrong thing, in any case where the prosecutor commits misconduct, that could be a basis for overturning the conviction. There are different types of appeals for trying to challenge prosecutorial misconduct. One common type of appeal is a direct appeal after a trial and conviction about what happened on the record. Another common type of appeal is called a writ of habeas corpus which is often about things that are not on the record. There is also a federal writ of habeas corpus about violations of federal rights. Many different types of appeals, but essentially prosecutors have a duty to uphold the law and to follow the law and make sure the defendants’ rights are protected.

If you have any questions about prosecutorial misconduct on a case that you’ve been following, you’re welcome to call me. I’d be happy to speak with you or have another member of my firm speak with you. Thank you. Take care.

Categories: Uncategorized

What Is Oral Argument in an Appeal?

Published on November 21, 2022

Video Transcript:

Oral argument is an element of many different types of appeals. I’m criminal appeals lawyer. I’ve done oral arguments many times and I’ll explain to you what they involve. Essentially, an oral argument is the opportunity near the end of an appeal to explain and answer questions that judges might have about the case. Now, to understand more about oral arguments, it is helpful to understand how appeals usually progress.

Appeals are almost all written documents. The defense counsel, the appeals defense lawyer, will argue how a person’s rights have been violated in the criminal case for example. Then the government may respond with their own written document, and often, then the defense has a chance to respond again. So, it’s almost all written but at the very end, here’s an opportunity for this oral argument.

Now, there are a few key points about oral argument. Number one is, you’re not allowed to bring up new arguments that you had not already raised in the written documents. You can’t bring up new arguments. The second thing that’s important to know is that this is often an opportunity for judges to ask questions about the case. Sometimes, judges are on the fence about how they want to rule, and if that’s the case, they will ask hard questions to both sides about hypothetical situations, about other case law to help the judges to make their decision.

But the third piece of information about oral argument is very important, which is that often it is not needed and not particularly helpful. In many cases, all of the arguments are clearly laid out in the written documents. Now sometimes, judges will ask for oral argument because they have particular questions, but oftentimes the written documents themselves, that’s enough. It explains the issue, it explains the arguments, it gives the examples, it cites the law, it cites the facts of the case. So, oral argument doesn’t need to happen in every single case.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any other questions about oral argument or criminal appeals in general, you’re welcome to call me or call somebody else in my firm. Thank you. Take care.

Categories: Uncategorized

Do You Get a Free Lawyer for a Criminal Appeal?

Published on November 20, 2022

Video Transcript:

You are entitled to a lawyer when you appeal a criminal case, but the question is, are you entitled to the government to pay for your lawyer? There are certain types of appeals where the government will pay for a lawyer to represent you. The most common example is after you’ve been convicted after a trial, typically, the government will then select and appoint a lawyer to represent you. Either the court will select a lawyer or there will be a list of eligible lawyers for the government to pay to represent you during an appeal. Those types of appeals, you do get a free lawyer.

You’re also welcome to hire a private lawyer. I actually do private criminal appeals for clients all over the country, all over the state. So, you’re entitled to a free lawyer in that type of case. There are other cases where you’re, generally speaking, not entitled to a lawyer. For example, if you plead guilty and then decide you want to appeal for some reason, maybe there was a problem with the guilty plea. Typically, you’re not automatically entitled to a lawyer in that case, only in rare circumstances. Other types of appeals, you’re not entitled to a free government-paid lawyer, although you could get your own private lawyer. For example, a writ of habeas corpus. That’s a type of appeal where the government will only choose to give you a lawyer for free, so to speak, if you make out certain arguments, if it looks like your writ of habeas corpus is likely to be granted or has very strong arguments.

So, it’s almost like a catch-22. You have to do a great job in articulating why you have a strong case and only then, would the government agree to provide you with a lawyer. Many people therefore choose to hire a private lawyer for a writ of habeas corpus. There are other types of appeals, really, “post-conviction relief” that aren’t technically appeals where you are not entitled to a lawyer paid for by the government, but you could get your own private lawyer. An example is an “application for commutation of sentence”. That’s an application to the governor’s office or it could be to the president’s office asking for a sentence to be cut short.

There are other types of character-based applications where typically, you do not have a lawyer provided for you by the government. You have to hire your own if you want a lawyer or you can just do something yourself if you want to represent yourself. Hope that answers your question. Many times, you are entitled to a free government lawyer, not of your own choosing, but of the court’s choosing or the government’s choosing, and generally speaking in all appeals, you are entitled to choose your own private lawyer if you do want to hire private lawyer.

If you have questions about criminal appeals, you’re welcome to call me. I’d be happy to speak with you or have someone else in my firm speak with you. Thank you. Take care.

Categories: Uncategorized

What Is an Opening Brief in an Appeal?

Published on November 20, 2022

Video Transcript:

What is an opening brief? An opening brief is generally speaking, the first document explaining why an appeal is appropriate, and why a conviction should be overturned, or a lower court’s decision should be overturned. The opening brief is usually created after the record from the court is created. So first, the record is created in the court and then whoever is appealing will file an opening brief; a document essentially, saying here is how the judge made an improper decision or here is how my client’s rights were violated. An opening brief will describe all that.

After that, the government will have an opportunity or the opposing party will have an opportunity to reply, usually a respondent’s brief, and then there was often a reply where the person who is appealing has the last word and can say, well, the respondents brief was wrong, and here is why. So, the opening brief though, is the first primary document explaining why an appeal is appropriate, why a lower court’s decision should be overturned.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions about opening briefs, call me, I’d be happy to chat with you or have another lawyer in my firm speak with you. Thank you.

Categories: Uncategorized

What Is a Medical Reprieve of Sentence?

Published on November 18, 2022

Video Transcript:

What is a medical reprieve of sentence? A medical reprieve of sentence is essentially a cutting short of a person’s sentence for medical reasons. I’m an appeals lawyer. I handle all types of executive clemency applications, and this is essentially what it is: You’re applying to the governor. You’re saying, this person has this medical condition, or this person is in danger because of their medical condition, or this person otherwise needs to be released from prison because of some medical-related circumstance.

Maybe they had a compromised immune system, maybe they’re very old and are diagnosed with some ailment, maybe they are an increased medical risk because of whatever medical condition they have due to the confined quarters of the prison. So, a medical reprieve of sentence is asking for the governor to cut short a person’s sentence based on their medical condition.

Now, generally speaking, it’s also helpful if they have good behavior in the prison, and if somebody is stabbing guards left and right, they’re not going to get any help from the governor. But it’s primarily focused on their medical condition and how it is fair and appropriate for them to get out of prison earlier than they would normally get out of prison in order for them to receive the medical treatment that they need or to be in a safer condition.

If you have any further questions about a medical reprieve of sentence, or anything else about criminal appeals, I’d be happy to speak with you. You’re welcome to call me or call one of the other lawyers at my firm. Thank you. Take care.

Categories: Uncategorized

What Is a Commutation of Sentence? How to Win?

Published on November 9, 2022

Video Transcript:

What is a commutation? A commutation of sentence? Well, I’m an appeals lawyer, a criminal appeals lawyer and I apply for commutations of sentence all the time for my clients. I’ll tell you what it is and I’ll tell you how to try to win them. What it is? It is a shortening of sentence from the governor or from the president. Every State’s Governor has certain executive privileges, and in most states the governor has the power to commute or cut short a person’s sentence. The United States President also has the power to commute or cut short a person’s sentence. Now, state governors have the power to commute sentences on state crimes. The president has the power to commute sentences on federal crimes. Most crimes are state crimes. Murder, robbery, attempted murder, shoplifting, all sorts of things, most of them are state crimes, and so, if someone’s been convicted of a crime, usually it’s a state rime. So, a commutation of sentence is a cutting short of that sentence so the person can get out of prison earlier.

The second question is how to win? How to win a commutation of sentence? And the main way to win is to show good character, show that the person deserves a commutation, deserves a shorter sentence. Most people who are commuted admit that they did the crime, and so, it’s not a question of whether they’re innocent or there’s a problem with their conviction, but rather they show good character, they show that they’re a person who deserves to be released early. They’ve done well, in the prison, they’ve been in programs in the prison, educational programs, rehab programs, they’ve helped other inmates and very importantly, often that they have a game plan for when they get out of prison. They can support what they’re saying, I want to work in a certain place and I have a job offer letter. I’ve family who say they’re going to house me, so I’m not going to be homeless in the streets. So, showing that the person morally deserves this and we’ll be able to reintegrate in society, that is really how to win a commutation application.

I hope this has been helpful if you have any questions about commutations or executive clemency or any other type of appeal, call me, I’d be happy to chat with you or have another lawyer in my firm speak with you. Thank you.

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