Spolin & Dukes Partners Co-Author Book on Federal Writs of Habeas CorpusPublished on November 21, 2023
Spolin & Dukes partners Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin have co-authored and published a new book on federal writs of habeas corpus, a type of criminal appeal. Fighting Federal Writs of Habeas Corpus, now available for purchase, describes the strategies that attorneys can take to increase their chances of winning this type of appeal. The book is based on Ms. Dukes and Mr. Spolin’s experience handling federal writs throughout the country.
The following description appears on the back of the book:
After losing an appeal in state court, there is usually one last type of appeal available: the federal writ of habeas corpus. This type of appeal occurs in federal court and generally involves rights violations under the United States Constitution. In essence, the goal of a federal writ is to overturn a conviction or sentence and, ideally, win an inmate’s freedom.
In this book, two of the country’s leading habeas attorneys, Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin, explain the ins and outs of fighting federal writs of habeas corpus. Based on their experience in state and federal courts, these former prosecutors explain the arguments, procedures, and strategies that are needed for a habeas writ to have a fighting chance.
Caitlin Dukes and Aaron Spolin are partners at Spolin & Dukes P.C., a law firm exclusively dedicated to criminal appeals and writs of habeas corpus. They currently handle appellate work for select clients throughout the country
Book purchases can be made through Amazon.com.
The authors, as well as the other Spolin & Dukes appeals attorneys, can be reached at (866) 716-2805.
AB 600 Judge Initiated ResentencingPublished on October 19, 2023
Decoding AB 600: A Deep Dive into Judge-Initiated Resentencing
With a recent surge in interest surrounding AB 600, many individuals – even fellow attorneys – have sought clarification on what this legislation entails. The below will shed light on the nuances of AB 600.
The Origins and Purpose of AB 600
Signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 8, 2023, AB 600 stands as a transformative piece of legislation. In essence, this law grants judges the authority to initiate resentencing if the original sentence no longer aligns with current legislation. This could pertain to areas such as enhancements, sentencing rules, strike laws, and other aspects related to sentencing.
Changes in laws are not uncommon. Laws that seemed justifiable five, ten, or even thirty years ago might now be considered outdated or unjust. As such, AB 600 acts as a remedy, allowing for sentences to be revisited and rectified in light of modern legislation.
The Nitty-Gritty of AB 600
A few core elements of AB 600 include:
- Initiating Resentencing: While previously a resentencing required initiation from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) or agreement from the prosecutor, AB 600 places this power in the hands of judges. This resentencing can be initiated by the original judge, the current judge, or any judge with jurisdiction over the case.
- Considering Post-Conviction Factors: The court is now mandated to review post-conviction elements and assess if the defendant’s rights were potentially violated during the initial conviction or sentencing.
- Presumption Favoring Recall of Sentence: One of the pivotal aspects of AB 600 is its presumption in favor of resentencing. This comes into play unless the defendant poses an “unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”
However, it is worth noting that despite this newfound judicial power, the law does not allow inmates or their attorneys to directly initiate the process. Judges must take the first step.
Should You Pursue an AB 600 Resentencing?
Though AB 600 provides an avenue for resentencing, it may not be commonly used by judges spontaneously. It is likely more beneficial in cases where judges have previously expressed a desire to issue a milder sentence but felt constrained by the laws of the time.
If you or someone you know is curious about the implications of AB 600 and how it might affect a past sentence, Spolin & Dukes P.C. is here to assist. Specializing in criminal appeals and writs of habeas corpus, our expertise lies precisely in this realm of post-conviction work. We can be reached at (866) 716-2805.
AB 1310 – CA’s Proposed Law to Resentence on Gun Enhancement CasesPublished on August 15, 2023
AUTO-GENERATED TRANSCRIPT OF VIDEO:
This is Aaron Spolin. I’m a Criminal Appeals attorney. And I wanted to make a short video about AB 1310, which is a proposed law. That would do a lot for a lot of inmates in California prisons. I want to make a note, this analysis was created in August of 2023. So the law may have been changed since that time, and anyone is welcome to call our firm if you want to find out whether the law applies to your case, or would apply to your case. Right now it is in a draft form and is not an actual law yet. So first of all, what is AB 1310? It is a proposed new law to resentence inmates with gun enhancements. So essentially, if you’ve got a gun enhancement, this would very likely affect you. And what would happen to those gun enhancements? Well, everyone with gun enhancement would get a resentencing. That does not mean the gun enhancement would go away. But, if this law were to pass in its current form everyone would get a re sentencing hearing in superior court where a judge could remove the enhancement, and the judge could potentially modify the sentence in other ways. So when would this go into effect? Well, if it were passed in its current form, October 1 2024, is going to go into effect. So that’s in about a year or so. And one question is: would a resentencing be guaranteed? Yes, it would be under the current proposed law. But there’s a serious limitation. The outcome is not guaranteed. Under the current law at resentencing, a judge could choose to keep the gun enhancement and could choose not to remove other enhancements. So essentially, even though the resentencing would be guaranteed under the current text of the law, actually getting a lower sentence is not guaranteed. And that will be up to the judge. So how does the judge decide? Well, the law lays out a number of factors that a judge is supposed to look at in deciding whether to remove a gun enhancement. Many of those factors are mentioned in a law called AB 256 about race, whether race played a role in the conviction or the sentence. Another one is whether there are multiple enhancements on one case; multiple enhancements make it more likely that the judge should remove the gun enhancement. If there are enhancements that are 20 years or more, that makes it more likely that the judge should remove the enhancement. Mental illness is a factor that judges are supposed to look at. Childhood trauma is another factor listed in this law and its current form that judges are supposed to look at. Whether prior convictions are old, more than five years old from before the crime in question that got the gun enhancement. There are many, many other factors as well risk of violence, age, time served behavior. And there’s a catch-all factor judges are supposed to consider: whether it is in the interest of justice to remove a gun enhancement. So that is AB 1310. The attorneys at Spolin & Dukes have heard lots of questions about AB 1310 from our clients, from current clients and future clients, and we’re open to answering questions. And obviously a disclaimer is that prior success that we’ve gotten in other cases does not guarantee future success. Either way, looking forward to hearing from you.
Fox 40 Covers Caitlin Dukes’ Promotion to Partner and Her Record of Case Wins, 2023Published on August 8, 2023
In July 2023, Fox 40 featured a story about attorney Caitlin Dukes’ record of wins throughout the last few years, as well as her recent promotion to partner. Contained in the article is a partial list of Ms. Dukes’ wins, which include cases where murder convictions were overturned and clients were released from custody.
The text of the article is copied below, and it can also be viewed on Fox 40’s website here.
Appeals Attorney Caitlin Dukes is Now Partner at Spolin & Dukes P.C.; She Brings a Record of Winning Difficult Cases
LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Appeals attorney and former prosecutor Caitlin Dukes has been promoted to the position of partner at Spolin & Dukes, P.C., formerly Spolin Law P.C.
She has a track record of winning difficult cases, including the twenty representative cases and rulings that are listed at the end of this press release. Her wins include overturning multiple murder convictions, winning contested court hearings, vacating lower court decisions, and—in one case—securing the immediate ordered release of an innocent client convicted of murder who had been fighting his case for 15 years.
Ms. Dukes, along with one other attorney, Jeremy Cutcher, won the firm’s Legal Service Award in 2022 for displaying exceptional care and consideration and for going above and beyond in their duties. Ms. Dukes was also selected by Super Lawyers® for the prestigious 2023 Rising Star award.
“A lawyer’s role goes beyond fighting the case,” noted attorney Aaron Spolin, another partner at the firm. “Caitlin has shown incredible compassion for our clients, demystifying the process and helping clients’ families understand her strategies and the tactical steps that she wants to take on a given case.”
Ms. Tran is the wife of a former client; Ms. Dukes overturned Ms. Tran’s husband’s murder conviction in 2020. “I was so glad to have Caitlin in court,” Ms. Tran said. “The prosecutor was trying to say my husband should stay in prison for life because he was some reckless killer, but Caitlin wouldn’t stand for any of that. She is a no-nonsense type of person. I owe Caitlin and Aaron a lot for winning the case.”
Ms. Dukes responded to the promotion with grace and a clear eagerness to continue her hard work.
“Everyone deserves a fighter. Everyone deserves compassion. When I first talk on the phone with my clients, I hear the sadness in their voices,” Ms. Dukes observed. “Many of them feel like a bug that’s been stepped on by our monstrous criminal justice system. My job is to lift them up. Some cases we win and some we lose, but I demand that my clients be taken seriously.”
Below is a partial list of cases in which Ms. Dukes has helped the firm achieve favorable outcomes, including ones where murder convictions were overturned, resulting in the clients’ release. It should be noted that prior success does not guarantee future success.
Caitlin Dukes and the firm’s case managers can be reached at (310) 494-2724.
An Incredible Start: Spolin Law Wins More Cases in First Half of 2023 Than in All of 2022Published on April 25, 2023
The following is a partial list of firm wins only from the first half of 2023. It is not a full list and does not include earlier or later years. It includes in-court advocacy, out-of-court advocacy, and the delivery of legal advice. These successful outcomes do not guarantee success on a future case.
To discuss how Spolin Law P.C. may be able to help with your (or your loved one’s) case, please call (866) 716-2805.
From Anders/Wende Brief to Freedom: Spolin Law Fights and Wins Case Previously Labeled as HopelessPublished on April 6, 2023
After Spolin Law attorneys filed a petition to vacate a client’s voluntary manslaughter conviction and resentence him in the San Diego Superior Court, the District Attorney was forced to agree that the client deserved to be released.
In 2019, prior to enlisting the help of Spolin Law attorneys, the client filed a resentencing petition under law SB 1437. The Superior Court initially denied the petition, and the client immediately appealed. On appeal, the client was given a court-appointed attorney. However, five months after the appeal began, the court-appointed attorney filed a Wende brief, essentially stating that the client’s case had no arguable issues. (An Anders/Wende brief is a written appellate filing where a lawyer tells the court that he or she cannot find any non-frivolous issues to argue). Shortly after the Wende brief filing, the Court of Appeal denied the appeal.
The client then hired Spolin Law to review his case. Using a recently passed law, Senate Bill 775, the attorneys argued that the expansion of SB 1437 entitled the client to have his voluntary manslaughter conviction vacated.
In May 2022, Spolin Law attorneys filed their petition citing the new law as well as the client’s conduct during the course of the alleged crime. Facing a practically untenable position, the District Attorney conceded that the client was eligible for a hearing to determine whether or not he was entitled to such relief.
Ultimately, after an agreed-upon stipulation negotiated by the firm’s attorneys and the District Attorney, the client was resentenced to “time served” (17 years, down from 28 years originally), in February of this year, and the client was released from custody in March.
“I am so glad that we were able to get this client the justice he deserved,” said Caitlin Dukes, one of Spolin Law’s attorneys who worked on the case. “He had been fighting his case for years, receiving denial after denial, but he never gave up, and his determination paid off.”
“This is yet another example of how you can lose many battles but still win the war eventually,” explained attorney Aaron Spolin, who worked on this case. “After the client’s old lawyer had filed the Wende brief, it had been very disheartening for him. But we benefited tremendously from the new law, and I think that he [the client] was just happy with the final outcome, no matter how zig-zaggy a road it was.”
For more questions about this or other similar cases, contact Spolin Law P.C. at (866) 716-2805. Firm notes that prior success does not guarantee future success.
Coverage of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Ruling for Spolin Law P.C. Client, 2022Published on February 14, 2023
In July 2022, Cision by PR Newswire published an article regarding a major decision in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals about the legality of plea deals. Spolin Law P.C. represented the defendant, whose conviction was overturned because his guilty plea was deemed invalid (case number PD-0593-20).
The text of the article is copied below, and it can also be viewed on Cision’s website here.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rules for Spolin Law Client; Attorney Aaron Spolin Explains How They Won
AUSTIN, Texas, July 26, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently announced a major decision about the legality of plea deals. Specifically, the Court overturned a conviction that had been based on a plea deal where the defendant had not fully understood the deal to which he had plead.
The defendant, a Texas prison inmate, was represented by appeals attorney Aaron Spolin of Spolin Law P.C.
“First we lost and then we won,” described Mr. Spolin. “Our client had initially appealed to the Court of Appeals, which denied the appeal. But I knew we were right, so we didn’t give up.” The appeal was only successful when the firm brought the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which is the state’s highest criminal court.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is part of the Texas Supreme Court. Because it is the state’s highest court on criminal law topics, the prosecutor will be unable to appeal to any other court. Therefore, the plea deal is permanently overturned.
Winning a case in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is extremely rare. One reason is because of the court’s selectivity. While attorneys file thousands of petitions with the court every year, the Court only chooses to formally review a small number of them. Additionally, even if a case is selected, it is not common for a state inmate to overturn a guilty plea.
“Courts usually say: if you plead guilty then that means you did the crime,” Mr. Spolin noted. “The problem with that argument is that sometimes a defendant might not even know what he is pleading to or he may have been pressured to accept a deal even if he is innocent, all in an attempt to just ‘get it over with’ or because his lawyer told him to accept the deal.”
For this recent win, Spolin Law argued that the client’s guilty plea was invalid for three reasons. First, it was not made in open court. The state rules regarding plea deals establish that the plea must be made on the record in court and cannot be solely through a written form. The second argument was that the client did not fully understand what rights he was giving up when he pled, especially his right to a jury trial. And the third argument was that the change of plea would not “prejudice” the prosecutor or unduly interfere with the court.
These arguments are primarily based on Constitutional law, which requires that any plea deal be “express, intelligent, and voluntary.” Essentially this means that a defendant has to understand the plea itself and understand the rights that he or she is giving up. The “voluntary” element also requires that the defendant be acting of his own free will and not compelled to accept the plea.
The attorneys at Spolin Law had reviewed the record in detail in order to find the three arguments to raise. This proved crucial, as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ended up granting the appeal only based on one of the three arguments. As Judge Kevin Yeary noted in the Court’s September 22nd published decision: “We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in forcing Appellant to submit to a bench trial. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals’ judgment and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
“We found all the errors, and I’m glad we did,” noted Hemi Tann, the assigned Case Manager at Spolin Law. Ms. Tann had helped to coordinate the lawyers, researchers, and other staff who had worked on the case. “Sometimes an appeals firm will get excited when they find a rights violation that can form the basis for an appeal. But in my mind, you need to find literally everything because you never know what the judges will be swayed by.”
Ms. Tann was also in close contact with the client’s family after the firm had won the appeal. “They were beyond happy,” as Ms. Tann recalled. “It had been a long road to get to this point, including first losing in the district court and then the appellate court before the Supreme Court win. I’m glad to have been a part of something so meaningful in their lives.”
The Benefits of Choosing a Large Appellate Law FirmPublished on January 16, 2023
When you engage a criminal appeals law firm, you should ask yourself, “What size appellate firm should I choose?” You get only one shot at a direct appeal from a judgment that affects your freedom and your future, so choosing wisely is critical. As shown below, selecting a large appellate firm over a small or “boutique” law firm has many advantages.
- Advantage 1: Experience, experience, experience.
- Advantage 2: Been there, done that.
- Advantage 3: Reputation.
- Advantage 4: No need to “reinvent the wheel.”
- Advantage 5: Additional Staff.
Advantage 1: Experience, experience, experience.
When you hire a large law firm, you get not just one attorney’s experience; you get the sum total of experience of all of the attorneys. More experience means better representation since each lawyer has honed his own skills and can also benefit from the skills of the other attorneys. Because each attorney brings different experiences from criminal appeals practice, and because of the sheer number of cases a large law firm manages, the firm knows how to handle just about any issue that arises.
Spolin Law has attorneys who were former prosecutors and attorneys who are lifelong defense advocates. This means that the ex-prosecutors have special insight into the likely strategy of the state in an appeal, while the defense attorneys have vast insight into what makes for a winning appeal, Some of the attorneys also formerly worked for judges, giving them the added knowledge of how judges think and decide cases. This breadth of experience helps a large firm succeed where other, smaller firms might flounder.
Advantage 2: Been there, done that.
With a large law firm and many attorneys pooling their knowledge and experience, there are few if any issues that the firm has not seen before, giving it the advantage of knowing how to successfully argue such an issue. This increases the chances of winning an appeal and reduces the research and leg work that an attorney must do before proceeding. Attorneys in large law firms know from each other what works and what doesn’t work on appeal, and they do not waste their time chasing tactics that won’t benefit you.
Advantage 3: Reputation.
A large law appellate firm handles many cases and will have a significant presence in the appellate courts and will be familiar with the courts and the judges who decide appeals. A firm’s favorable reputation among the judges and the courts transfers to each attorney in the firm, giving the attorney an advantage over other, lesser-known firms and lawyers. Lawyers in a firm build a reputation for the entire firm, so any attorney from the firm appearing before a judge will carry that good reputation. A reputation for outstanding work and success means that a court will give serious consideration the issues raised on appeal, giving an appeal greater likelihood of success.
Advantage 4: No need to “reinvent the wheel.”
Because of the number of cases a large appellate firm has tried, it has a database of applications for appeal, briefs, motions, and other papers filed before a court. This means that an attorney at a large firm can draw from the database instead of starting from scratch on an important document. This is a more efficient way to operate, saving time and money. It also frees up time for the attorneys to strategize and find a winning approach to an appeal, increasing the chances of success.
Advantage 5: Additional Staff.
The success of any appeal depends on experienced, skillful attorneys as well as an outstanding staff that supports the attorneys. A large law firm like Spolin Law has such a staff of people, such as a dedicated research team to handle researching complex issues of law to find the most favorable cases to win an appeal. Paralegals perform additional research and draft documents for appeal.
Some people are afraid that large law firms are impersonal and that their cases may get lost with the many other cases the firm handles. However, Spolin Law has case managers who provide client support and communication so every client has assistance with his or her case. You are not left wondering what is happening with your case or feeling disconnected from the firm. Your appeal does not fall through the cracks.
The factors listed above show the many ways that a large law firm gives you advantages that a small firm cannot. Experience, reputation, and support give a large law firm the ability to focus your case and provide the best representation to achieve your goals. As stated above, you get one shot at a direct appeal. Make it count with a large law firm that will provide expertise in handling your case.
Spolin Law Wins More Cases In 2022 than In Any Other YearPublished on January 3, 2023
Spolin Law P.C. has had a record-making year. In 2022, the firm won more cases than in any previous year, and wins over the last few years include overturning multiple murder convictions, winning character-based applications, benefiting from new laws, winning in the California Supreme Court, and even overturning a conviction on a guilty-plea case.
“We don’t win every case,” says Aaron Spolin, one of the criminal appeals attorneys at the firm. “But we try our absolute hardest, and I’d like to think that we have as high a win rate as any firm out there, perhaps the highest.”
“The clients whom we are best able to help are those who have faith in us and patience throughout what can be a long road.” He likes to cite the case of a former Wasco State Prison inmate who won his freedom with the firm’s help in 2020. “He is a writer and a poet who fought his case for 15 years! That’s a very long time, but 15 years is a lot better than life in prison.” The client is now a sought-after inspirational speaker.
In looking back at 2022’s successes, Mr. Spolin credits the hard-working and resourceful attorneys at the firm. “People hustle here; we want to win win win.”
One such hard-working attorney is Jeremy Cutcher, who was a recipient of the firm’s 2022 California Legal Service Award. Mr. Cutcher recently won a remand and resentencing on a very difficult case from Justice Cynthia Lie in the Sixth Appellate District (oral argument was on July 5, 2022). 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.
“For our clients, their lives are on the line. How could I not go all-out?” asks Mr. Cutcher. “There’s a reason that the other lawyers here and I do what we do. Our clients often have no voice. They’ve been treated like garbage. It’s a great feeling to fight for someone’s freedom and, in the process, treat them as a human being whose life really matters.”
The following is a partial list of firm wins only from 2022. It is not a full list and does not include earlier or later years. It includes in-court advocacy, out-of-court advocacy, and the delivery of legal advice. These successful outcomes do not guarantee success on a future case.
To discuss how Spolin Law P.C. may be able to help with your (or your loved one’s) case, please call (866) 716-2805.
Caitlin Dukes and Jeremy Cutcher Win Firm’s 2022 California Legal Service AwardPublished 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.