CA Police Use Gang Members to Illicit Illegal Jailhouse Confessions

Posted on Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 at 6:37 am    

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and other Southern California law enforcement agencies have been hiring gang members to obtain confessions from suspects in detention. The practice, unfortunately, is lawful and widespread throughout the United States. But in this case, the Orange County police and prosecutors allegedly stood by as their gang member informants used death threats to obtain some confessions. This type of coerced confession is unconstitutional and is now the subject of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Many criminal cases are won – or lost – during the pretrial stage. Suspects are at their most vulnerable, usually shaken by the arrest experience and without the benefit of legal representation. The police know this is the best time to extract illegal jailhouse confessions, or incriminating statements from suspects. For this reason, you should always exercise your right to remain silent and request the assistance of a Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer for help with your case. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney at Spolin Law, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Police Obtained Confessions Through Threats of Violence

First exposed by Assistant Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders, the practice of using gang members to obtain confessions in the Los Angeles area has been described at length in the Orange County Weekly, the Orange County Register, and a report on Injusticewatch.org authored by former Los Angeles Times staff writer Ted Rohrlich.

Six Southern California counties hired two gang members to extract confessions in around 300 undercover jail operations between 2010 and 2016. The authorities gave the informants preferential treatment in jail, paid them over $300,000, and then released them into a witness protection program. Every so often, they were given wires and placed in the same cells as criminal suspects. The recordings helped with the prosecution of several hard-to-solve murder cases, most of which involved street gangs.

As Mexican Mafia shot callers, the informants knew that killings had to be carried out in a specific way. For example, drive-by shootings were forbidden, and corrections officers were no longer permissible targets. The informants would tell suspects that their killings had broken gang rules, and that gang leaders had added them to the “green list” for assassination. Under fear of death, the suspect would then explain to the informants how the killings had been “legally” carried out under gang rules – thus unknowingly confessing their crime to the police.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office May Have Broken the Law

When the police arrest you, you become a suspect. As such, you benefit from the right to be free of coercion. This is why police officers must give you a Miranda warning informing you that you have the right to remain silent, and that anything you say can be used against you. This warning often encourages suspects to stop talking. For this reason, the police try as much as possible to question potential suspects before a Miranda warning has been given. One way is to have a consensual conversation with a person before they officially become a suspect. Another is to trick a suspect into willingly confessing once they are in custody.

The Supreme Court does not consider your rights to be violated when the police pose as an inmate to obtain a confession from you. In the 1990 case of Illinois v. Perkins, the court stated, “that coercive atmosphere is not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone whom he believes to be a fellow inmate and whom he assumes is not an officer having official power over him.”

Southern California authorities stepped over the line, because their informants essentially used death threats against questioned suspects. The United States Constitution forbids the use or threats of violence to obtain confessions. For this reason, the ACLU has sued the Orange County Sheriff and Orange County District Attorney, claiming that “the threats these informants made and continue to make are plain, they are explicit, and they are unconstitutional.” But their civil rights case will succeed only if they can demonstrate that the authorities knew that their informants were using death threats.

Call Spolin Law for Help Today

When your rights are violated in pretrial detention, an appeals lawyer may be able to obtain the dismissal of your case. Alternatively, any evidence the police obtained through the violation of your rights may be removed from the prosecution’s case, making it unlikely that you will be convicted. If you or a family member was threatened into confessing, you need to act now to maximize your chances of a positive case outcome. Call Spolin Law today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out through the online form to schedule a free consultation of your case.


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

Posted on Thursday, April 11th, 2019 at 6:07 am    

This Monday, a team of Spolin Law P.C. attorneys representing one of the firm’s clients won an important ruling on the constitutionality of SB 1437. Senate Bill (SB) 1437 is a new and retroactive law that drastically reduces sentences for inmates who had been convicted of “felony-murder” in circumstances where they had not actually intended to cause a death. The law was passed in September, 2018, and went into effect on January 1, 2019. (To learn more about SB 1437, read the firm’s recent article about the law.)

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

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office had argued that the client’s SB 1437 petition should be dismissed because the law itself was unconstitutional. The DA’s Office alleged that SB 1437 (1) improperly amended prior voter-passed initiatives, (2) violated the separation of powers doctrine by retroactively modifying sentences, and (3) diminished victims’ rights. The argument in response successfully rebutted these assertions by showing how the new law (1) does not contravene prior initiatives when analyzed under the proper legal standard used for analyzing initiative modifications, (2) comports with current standards of continuing judicial oversight of criminal convictions, and (3) does not modify any constitutional or statutory right of victims.

At the end of the Monday hearing and after reading all written submissions, Judge Forcum ruled in favor of the Spolin Law client and upheld the constitutionality of SB 1437. The case will now proceed to a re-sentencing hearing.

To learn more about SB 1437 or any other criminal appeal or post-conviction matter, contact Spolin Law for a free consultation. The firm can be reached at (310) 424-5816.

San Mateo Superior Court


How Long Will My Appeal Take?

Posted on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 at 6:19 am    

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

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

Understanding Appeals Deadlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Can a California Criminal Appeals Lawyer Help?

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