How Spolin Law P.C. Achieves Post-Conviction Relief

Aaron Spolin

Award-winning Michigan post-conviction relief attorney Aaron Spolin has strategies that win cases. His skilled legal team at Spolin Law P.C. fights to achieve success every time.

Successful post-conviction relief requires skilled representation by a lawyer who understands Michigan laws and is dedicated to their clients. Spolin Law P.C. aggressively fights for all clients with the following steps, when they apply to each specific case.

Mr. Spolin explains the strategies his firm uses for clients:

  • Identifying Errors in Your Case: If there were mistakes made by your former attorney, the police, prosecutors, or trial court, you deserve to have your case reviewed again. Spolin Law P.C. will dive into the details of your case, including your trial transcript to determine if errors were made. The goal is to find specific facts to support your post-conviction relief case.
  • Ensuring Appropriate Laws Were Applied to Your Case: The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all elements of a crime are satisfied. If not, then a conviction is not appropriate. Mr. Spolin and his team will evaluate the details of the law and determine if a finding of guilt was invalid. At times, changes to laws that occur after a verdict has been made can result in relief by the court.
  • Raising Additional Issues and Introducing New Evidence: If new evidence has come to light after a verdict, it may be necessary to ask the court to review that new information. New issues may come up due to new technology or when the prosecutor withholds essential information in a case.
  • Helping You Return to Your Life: Once you are released from incarceration, you may still face discrimination in society, at work, or in your personal life. Spolin Law P.C. can help you get relief from probation, removal from Megan’s List, seal criminal records, and obtain reinstatement of other rights that can help you move forward with life.

The Michigan post-conviction lawyers at Spolin Law P.C. have achieved successful outcomes for many clients. To learn more about how we can help with your case, call us for a consultation at (866) 606-7992.

  1. How Spolin Law P.C. Achieves Post-Conviction Relief
  2. Complexities of Post-Conviction Relief Documents
  3. Types of Post-Conviction Relief in Michigan
  4. The Importance of a Lawyer in Post-Conviction Relief Cases

Complexities of Post-Conviction Relief Documents

For most Spolin Law P.C. clients, more than one type of post-conviction relief will be available. Each request or application for post-conviction relief must be made within a specific timeframe and make appropriate points. If a deadline is missed or the best arguments are not presented, you may not get a successful outcome, even if there is a good basis for your request.

If you want to file a motion for post-conviction relief, you should work with a lawyer who understands Michigan and federal laws as well as your Constitutional Rights. They must also be familiar with criminal court procedures. The documents you file must point to specific laws and errors that were made in your case; otherwise, your relief is not likely to be granted.

Spolin Law P.C. has a legal team ready to help you. We can review your case and immediately begin drafting the complex documents necessary to present your best case for post-conviction relief. Call today at (866) 606-7992.

  1. How Spolin Law P.C. Achieves Post-Conviction Relief
  2. Complexities of Post-Conviction Relief Documents
  3. Types of Post-Conviction Relief in Michigan
  4. The Importance of a Lawyer in Post-Conviction Relief Cases

Types of Post-Conviction Relief in Michigan

Attorneys Aaron Spolin and Don Nguyen discussing strategies

The post-conviction attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. will seek every avenue possible to achieve relief for a client.

You may believe that the conviction is the final word on your guilt and that the next step is simply to serve the sentence imposed. However, Michigan provides several avenues for challenging a conviction, getting a sentence reduction, and restoring your civil rights.

Motion for Directed Verdict of Acquittal: Mich. Ct. R. 6.419

After the defendant has been convicted, they may file a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal. This motion asks the court to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict and direct the acquittal of the defendant; that is, find them not guilty.

A motion for directed verdict of acquittal is a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence used against the defendant to convict them of a crime. In the motion, the defendant claims that the state failed to produce sufficient evidence on all elements of the crime charged, which entitles a defendant to acquittal. To grant defendant’s motion to acquit, the court must find that, considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, no rational jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Courts are reluctant to overturn jury verdicts, and motions for directed verdicts of acquittal are not normally granted. However, if the evidence against a defendant was particularly weak or if the prosecution failed to present evidence on all elements of the offense, filing a motion for a directed verdict of acquittal may result in a conviction being overturned.

Motion for a New Trial: Mich. Ct. R. 770.2; 6.431

A motion for a new trial is the most common post-conviction motion filed in the trial court. Michigan law provides that a trial court has authority to grant a new trial “for any cause for which by law a new trial may be granted, or when it appears to the court that justice has not been done.”

A judge may grant a new trial based on any of the following:

  • Newly discovered evidence that would affect the finding of the defendant’s guilt
  • Perjury by a witness
  • Juror bias or misconduct
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Judicial bias
  • Judicial conflict of interest
  • Ineffective assistance of trial counsel that prejudiced the defendant
  • A violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights (such as the right to confront the witnesses against them)
  • The judge’s belief that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice

Specific requirements exist for granting a new trial based on any of the above reasons. For example, newly discovered evidence must be evidence that the defendant could not have found prior to the trial, and it must relate to the guilt or innocence of the defendant and not merely an inconsequential matter in the trial.

Additionally, for nearly all the bases for a new trial stated above, the defendant must show actual prejudice; that is, that the misconduct or error potentially affected the outcome of the trial. It would not be enough for a defendant to show that a witness committed perjury. They must show that the perjured testimony resulted in a finding of guilt rather than an acquittal. Given a jury’s latitude in weighing the trial evidence, this is a difficult standard to meet.

A claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel maybe based on conduct of the attorney that occurred at trial, such as failing to cross-examine a state’s witness, or on conduct that is not reflected on the record, such as not interviewing a witness or not investigating an alibi. If the defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel that is not demonstrated in the trial record, the court may, but is not required to, hold a hearing, called a Ginther hearing. In a Ginther hearing, the defendant presents testimony and evidence to show that the attorney’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness that affected the outcome of the trial. If, as a result of the hearing, the court finds that defendant’s counsel was ineffective, it may order a new trial if counsel’s conduct undermines the court’s confidence in the verdict.

A court may also order a new trial in the interest of justice. This can occur if the court finds:

  • Juror bias
  • Significant juror misconduct
  • Inaccurate jury instructions
  • Insufficient evidence (that does not warrant acquittal)
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Any other reason that supports the court’s opinion that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice

Withdrawal of Plea: Mich. Ct. R. 6.310.

A defendant who enters a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge has the right to withdraw the plea before the court accepts it. After acceptance, the defendant must file a motion to withdraw the plea, and the plea may be withdrawn only in the interest of justice. Generally, motions to withdraw pleas are based on claims that counsel was ineffective or that the defendant did not understand the full consequences of the plea.

A defendant’s plea of guilty or nolo contendere must be knowing and voluntary. Knowing means that the defendant understood the terms of the plea, including the jail or prison time that could result as well as the collateral consequences of a guilty plea, such as having to register as a sex offender or being deported. If a defendant can demonstrate a lack of understanding, they may be entitled to withdraw a plea.

A plea may be involuntary if it is the result of coercion or deception by the prosecutor, the court, or even the defendant’s own counsel. An involuntary plea is a proper basis for a motion to withdraw a plea.

Ineffective assistance of counsel may support withdrawal of the plea if, for example, counsel failed to communicate all plea agreements to the defendant, poorly negotiated a plea agreement, or encouraged the defendant to plead guilty for an improper reason.

A defendant does not have the right to withdraw a plea. Motions are granted only in the interest of justice. An exception to this rule is when the court tells a defendant the sentence it intends to impose, and the court, after the plea, imposes a sentence greater than the one on which the defendant relied in pleading guilty or nolo contendere. In such a case, the defendant has an absolute right to withdraw their plea.

The consequence of withdrawing a plea is that the defendant is put in the position they were in before the plea. The defendant may plead again to a new deal or may go to trial.

Motion to Correct Invalid Sentence: Mich. Ct. R. 6.429

If the sentence a court imposes is invalid, the defendant may file a motion to correct the sentence. This may occur if, for example, the trial court imposed a 20-year sentence for a crime that allows only a maximum 10-year sentence. The defendant’s motion points out the error in the sentence, and the court grants the motion and corrects the sentence.

A defendant cannot file a motion to modify a valid sentence. The court has no jurisdiction to do so once a valid sentence is imposed.

Motion for Post-Conviction DNA Testing: Mich. C.L. 770.16

A post-conviction motion for DNA testing is often filed along with a motion for a new trial. If the defendant was convicted prior to January 8, 2001, that defendant would petition the Circuit Court to order DNA testing of any biological material identified during the investigation leading to their conviction and for a new trial based on the results of that testing. A defendant convicted on or after January 8, 2001, must show:

  • That DNA testing was done in the case
  • That the result of the testing was inconclusive
  • That current DNA testing is likely to produce a conclusive result

If a biological sample is available, a court must order DNA testing if it finds that:

  • The defendant presented proof that the evidence sought to be tested is material to the issue of the identity of the defendant as the person who committed the crime or was an accomplice to the crime
  • The identity of the person who committed the crime was at issue during the trial
  • The biological sample was either not tested or will be subject to DNA testing technology that was not available when the defendant was convicted

If the result of the post-trial DNA testing shows that the defendant was not the source of the tested material, the court may grant a new trial. The law does not give the court authority to acquit the defendant based on the results of DNA testing.

Appeal: Mich. Ct. R. 7.200

Another method of obtaining post-conviction relief is to appeal the judgment against a defendant to the next highest court. This is a request for Michigan’s Court of Appeals to hear the defendant’s arguments in favor of reversal of the judgment and to issue a decision on the appeal.

Most defendants convicted after a jury trial are entitled to be heard on appeal and will file a Claim of Appeal. If a defendant pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to a crime or missed the deadline for appeal, they may file an Application for Leave to Appeal. Strict guidelines apply to Claims of Appeal and Applications for Leave to Appeal, including deadlines for filing, the information that must be included with the Claim or Application, and the specific request for relief that the defendant seeks.

The Court of Appeals may or may not grant the right to oral argument; it may decide the case based solely on the record and the briefs, or written arguments, of the parties. It may remand the case for retrial, discharge the defendant, or affirm the judgment of the lower court.

While a defendant who disagrees with the Court of Appeals’ decision may file an application for leave (a request) to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, that Court has the discretion to grant or deny any application. A loss in the Court of Appeals does not always foretell a loss at the Michigan Supreme Court level, especially if the defendant has raised issues of the violation of their Constitutional Rights or ineffective assistance of counsel. However, review by the Michigan Supreme Court generally requires egregious wrongs and violations of law.

Motion for Relief from Judgment: Mich. Ct. R. 6.502

A motion for relief from judgment in Michigan is a last-ditch effort by a defendant to get the trial court to overturn their conviction. A defendant would file such a motion after all appeals (including an appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court) are exhausted or if the defendant missed all the deadlines to appeal their case.

A motion for relief from judgment must be in the form of a motion to modify a judgment or motion to set aside the judgment. A court cannot grant relief from the judgment if the motion:

  • Seeks relief from a judgment of conviction and sentence that still is subject to challenge on appeal
  • Seeks relief based on reasons that were already decided against the defendant in a prior appeal
  • Seeks relief based on grounds, other than jurisdictional defects, that could have been raised on appeal or in a prior motion for relief from judgment

A claim for relief is foreclosed as stated above unless the defendant can establish (1) good cause for failing to raise it earlier and (2) actual prejudice from the errors or irregularities in the trial court that justify relief. In other words, the defendant must have a good reason for failing to raise the issue earlier and must show that, but for the error, the defendant would have had a reasonable chance of acquittal.

This is a difficult but not impossible standard to meet. A court may grant a motion for relief from judgment based on the following arguments:

  • Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel
  • Jurisdictional defects
  • A factor out of the control of the defense that caused the error in the verdict, such as newly discovered evidence, government suppression of evidence, mental incompetence of the defendant, or novel issues of law that could not have been raised earlier
  • Actual innocence, which requires a finding that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

If the defendant is seeking relief from a judgment that was entered on a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the defendant must show more than the involuntariness of the plea. They must show that the plea was involuntary to such a degree that it would be manifestly unjust to allow the conviction to stand.

Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus: Mich. Ct. R. 3.303

A defendant who believes they were wrongly convicted of a crime may petition a Michigan state court for a writ of habeas corpus. A petition is a written request for a court to take legal action. A writ is an order to a person or entity to do or refrain from doing some act. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus requests a court to order the entity having custody of a person to produce the person in court and justify the person’s detention.

A petition for a writ of habeas corpus is not an appeal or extension of the trial. It is a separate action brought after all appeals or other means of challenging the conviction have been exhausted. It can be brought in any court (except probate court) in the county in which the defendant is detained. A petition is most often based on a claim of a violation of constitutional rights.

To demonstrate the right to a writ, the defendant must first be in custody. A person held in detention prior to trial and a person serving a sentence at an institution of the state are both in custody. Next, the defendant must state the given reason for the detention and why the detention is illegal.

To be entitled to a writ, the defendant must show not only the illegality of the detention but their right to be unconditionally and immediately released from custody if their detention is found to be illegal. A writ cannot issue if the defendant would merely be entitled to a new trial.

The court may issue the writ directly or issue an order requiring the entity detaining the defendant to show cause for the detention. The defendant and the institution detaining them then provide arguments to the court about whether the detention is illegal or legal. A Michigan court will order the releases of a defendant only if it finds “radical defects rendering a judgment or proceeding absolutely void” and not merely that the detention was unlawful.

If a defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel in the state proceedings, the court will grant relief only when the performance of counsel made the trial “a farce, or a mockery of justice,” when the level of representation was “shocking to the conscience of the reviewing court,” or when the representation was merely “perfunctory, in bad faith, a sham, a [pretense], or without adequate opportunity for conference and preparation.”

These standards for granting relief are stringent. However, if the defendant suffered an obvious and serious violation of their Constitutional Rights and would be entitled to immediate release if the court deems the detention illegal, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus may provide the means for the defendant’s freedom.

Re-Sentencing

A motion for resentencing requests a modification of an original sentence. This can be done to request early release from incarceration or the relief from probationary conditions. Michigan is constantly passing new laws that adjust appropriate sentencing for specific crimes. When those laws present new guidelines for sentencing, people who are in custody can request a reduction of their current sentence.

Early Termination of Probation

Although being on probation is better than sitting in prison, it can still hold you back in life. It can limit employment opportunities, the ability to travel out of state, and engagement in other activities. Under Michigan law, the court may modify or terminate probation if appropriate. If a defendant can show that justice has been served, a court may terminate probation early.

In general, to get early termination of probation, a defendant must have paid all fines, completed all court ordered classes, and finished required treatment. Courts often require that a defendant complete at least half of their probation.

Commutation

A defendant may apply to the Michigan governor to get a sentence reduction or elimination through a commutation of sentence. A commutation does not erase a criminal conviction, but instead modifies a sentence. The commutation process in Michigan requires an application, which is reviewed by the parole board to determine if a public hearing is appropriate. After the hearing, the parole board will make a recommendation to the governor.

Exclusion from the Sex Offender Registry

People who have been convicted of certain sexual offenses must register on a Sex Offender Registry. However, eligible people can petition to have their information removed or excluded from the list.

Restoration of Gun Rights

Certain criminal convictions, including felonies, result in the loss of gun rights in Michigan. However, in certain circumstances, those civil rights can be restored. One way to obtain restoration of gun rights is through a governor’s pardon.

Governor’s Pardon

A governor may issue a pardon to someone who has been convicted of a crime. A pardon essentially erases a conviction from an individual’s record. It is as if the person was innocent, and the offense was never committed. A pardon will restore civil and political rights, including gun rights and the right to vote.

Anyone who has been convicted of a state crime in Michigan is eligible to seek a governor’s pardon; however, a person has the best chances of obtaining one if they can prove they are completely rehabilitated. A person convicted of a federal crime or in another state is not eligible for a Michigan governor’s pardon.

When considering a pardon, the governor is required to obtain a recommendation from the Parole Board; however, the governor is not bound to the Parole Board’s decision. The Parole Board will not process a pardon application when expungement is available and a more appropriate remedy.

Expungement & The Michigan Clean Slate Act

Expungement may be possible for people who have completed all of the requirements of their conviction, including probation. Expungement essentially dismisses a case and the conviction does not even have to be revealed to future employers. Defendants not eligible for expungement include people who have been convicted of murder or certain sex crimes or punishable a life sentence, even if the actual sentence was shorter).

There are waiting periods that must be completed prior to requesting an expungement. For one or more non-serious, non-assaultive misdemeanors, you must wait three years to seek an expungement. For one or more serious misdemeanors, you must wait five years. For one felony, you must wait five years. For multiple felonies, you must wait seven years.

In 2021, Michigan enacted the Clean Slate Act, which expanded the types and numbers of offenses that can be expunged. The goal of the Clean Slate Act is to improve employment and housing options for people who have been convicted of crimes. This reduces poverty rates and improves communities and family structures.

Expungement Relief from Marijuana Convictions: HB 4982

House Bill (HB 4982) provides post-conviction relief to inmates who were convicted of offenses that are no longer considered a crime pursuant to Michigan’s marijuana legalization initiative. People with qualifying marijuana convictions can file to have their convictions set aside. There is a presumption of eligibility for anyone who was convicted of charges that are no longer considered a crime.

Sealing Juvenile Records

In most cases, juvenile records are not automatically sealed when a person turns 18. Juvenile criminal records can impact educational opportunities, financial aid availability, employment options, and access to housing. Most juvenile convictions can be sealed, except those that involved misdemeanor or felony traffic offenses, physical assault or use of a weapon, or would result in at least 10 years in prison if convicted as an adult.

  1. How Spolin Law P.C. Achieves Post-Conviction Relief
  2. Complexities of Post-Conviction Relief Documents
  3. Types of Post-Conviction Relief in Michigan
  4. The Importance of a Lawyer in Post-Conviction Relief Cases

The Importance of a Lawyer in Post-Conviction Relief Cases

Spolin Law legal team discussing with a client

The best post-conviction lawyers utilize key strategies to achieve success for their clients. Spolin Law P.C. works hard to help clients move forward with life.

The attorney you choose can greatly impact whether you achieve success in your post-conviction relief case. Spolin Law P.C. is led by Aaron Spolin, an award-winning criminal appeals attorney who has experience in all types of post-conviction relief.

The best post-conviction relief lawyer can make a difference in many ways, including:

  • Applying Michigan and Federal Laws to Your Case: Your attorney should have an in-depth understanding of statutes that apply to your case as well as potential laws that will offer you relief. The Spolin Law P.C. has a team of legal professionals who are highly educated and use available laws to achieve post-conviction relief for clients.
  • Evaluation of the Record: One of the most important steps in reviewing a case is diving into the complete record of the original case. That includes all evidence used to support your case as well as anything used against you. All hearing and trial transcripts should be reviewed for errors. You need an attorney who will go through the record with a fine tooth comb.
  • Achieving Our Clients’ Goals: Spolin Law P.C. aggressively fights to protect the rights of our clients while working hard to achieve their goals for the future. There are many options for post-conviction relief, and our legal team will help you understand all of your options.

To learn more about post-conviction relief options in your case, contact a Michigan criminal appeals attorney at Spolin Law P.C. for a consultation. We are available at (866) 606-7992.