California Criminal Appeals: Terms & Definitions

Posted on Sunday, March 29th, 2020 at 1:53 pm    

A guilty verdict is not always the end of the road. You still have options even after a conviction in California. The criminal appeals process offers you the chance to appeal an unfair judgment and have your conviction reviewed.

However, appealing a case is complex and requires careful attention to deadlines, filing requirements, and other details that can impact the outcome of your case. As the premier California appeals attorneys, Spolin Law, P.C. has provided some of the key terms used in the California criminal appeals process. These may help you understand what to expect.

To schedule a free consultation with Spolin Law, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Criminal Appeals: Key Terms

  • Brief – A brief is a written statement that details one side’s arguments. In an appeal, a brief usually outlines why the court made a mistake or supports the prior ruling.
  • Case Law – To understand how the law applies to your case, you have to look at how the law was interpreted in previous court decisions. Case law is another name for legal precedent.
  • Court of Appeals – The court that reviews decisions made by lower courts; Also known as a state appellate court.
  • Decree – A formal order that is legally enforceable.
  • Finding – A decision made by the court or jury after an examination or investigation. The judge announces their finding after deliberation.
  • Lower Court – When a decision is reviewed during an appeal, the lower court’s decision is the one being reviewed. Typically in reference to district courts, lower court decisions are reviewed by a superior court.
  • Motion Practice – A party uses a motion practice to ask for relief from the court. A motion is how an issue is brought to the court for a decision. Common examples include motions to dismiss charges, compel action, or exclude certain evidence.
  • Notice of Appeal – When you decide to appeal a lower court’s decision, you file a notice of appeal with the superior court. This starts the official appeals process.
  • Opinion – When your case goes to the court of appeals, three or more judges hear your case. After they make a decision, they provide an explanation of their decision and the influencing factors.
  • Oral Arguments – During oral arguments, lawyers from both sides summarize their points and take questions from the judge.
  • Relief – Post-conviction relief gives the defendant the opportunity to provide more evidence or bring up additional issues after a decision has been reached. If evidence supports it, your relief can include a fair resolution.
  • Petitioner – The party who requests an appeal and submits a notice of appeal to the court is the petitioner.
  • Precedent – This is similar to “case law.” It refers to previous court decisions in similar cases to the one being heard. Judges may look at the precedent set by previous cases when trying a new case.
  • Pro Se – Pro se representation is when an individual does not have an attorney and chooses to represent themselves in court.
  • Respondent – The party that did not request the appeal is the respondent.
  • Stay Pending Appeal – A stay pending appeal offers temporary relief from the judgment of the court until the court can rule on the appeal.
  • Superior Court – During the appeal process, the superior court is the one that reviews the decision made by the lower court.
  • Trial Court – The trial court is the court with original jurisdiction over a criminal case.
  • Writ – This is a written court order that tells a party to act or abstain from acting in a specific way. For example, a Writ of Habeas Corpus asks the court to review the terms of imprisonment.

Why You Need an Appeals Attorney

If you want to appeal a court decision made against you, you need the assistance of an experienced appeals attorney. Your lawyer can review your official case file to look for mistakes that may strengthen your argument. An appeals attorney will help you navigate this process, avoid roadblocks, and meet strict deadlines.

Contact Spolin Law Today

Attorney Aaron Spolin of Spolin Law, P.C. was previously a prosecutor and now an award-winning criminal defense and appeals attorney. With extensive appeals experience and a record of overturning unjust convictions, when the system has wronged you and you need to appeal, turn to Spolin Law.

Schedule your consultation now by contacting us online or call (310) 424-5816.


Spolin Law P.C. Announces 2019 Winner of Civil Rights and Criminal Law Essay Competition & Scholarship

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2020 at 9:13 am    

Spolin Law P.C. is proud to announce the winner of their 2019 Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship. The Spolin Law P.C. team has chosen Meena Venkataramanan, who will receive a $1,000 scholarship to use toward tuition and other educational expenses.

Created in 2017, the Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship was developed to support students whose work brings awareness to civil rights issues. This falls in line with the firm’s overarching goals of representing individuals whose rights have been violated and protecting each person’s right to be treated with dignity.

Meena Venkataramanan was chosen as the 2019 winner for her impressive curriculum vitae, the scope of her work as a writer and editor, and her leadership initiatives. Ms. Venkataramanan is working toward an A.B. in English and South Asian Studies, with a secondary focus in Government. She will matriculate in May 2021. In addition to writing and editing for The Harvard Advocate, ABC News, and The Harvard Crimson, Ms. Venkataramanan also serves in several organizational leadership roles. She is the founder of Stories from the Border and the founder/president of Harvard South Asian Americans in Public Service (SAAPS) Initiative.

Ms. Venkataramanan’s essay, titled “The Spirit of Our Constitution,” explores troubling ties between the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the current political climate of the United States. Throughout the essay, she points to legal decisions that have upheld the rights of Americans and draws attention to missteps of the American legal system. Her essay explores the fallout of decisions that take away Americans’ rights and considers the future of the democracy if the values described in the Constitution are not upheld.

In “The Spirit of Our Constitution,” Ms. Venkataramanan draws parallels between recent counterterrorism efforts and the internment of Japanese-Americans. After describing the reparations made by the United States government to its Japanese-Americans, she writes, “However, to many Japanese-Americans, the scars caused by such brutal and unjustified treatment in the name of national security are truly indelible, and the federal government’s recent counterterrorism efforts are painful reminders of such maltreatment.”

Our team of Los Angeles criminal appeals attorneys looks forward to seeing how leaders like Ms. Venkataramanan, her peers, and other scholarship applicants will preserve the values of the Constitution and support human rights in coming years. We firmly believe that the future of America will be built by compassionate individuals and civil rights leaders.

The Spolin Law P.C. Civil Rights and Criminal Law Scholarship aims to encourage students from different fields to apply.


Spolin Law Overturns Second Defective Murder Conviction Within Six-Month Span

Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2020 at 6:36 am    

Spolin Law attorneys Matthew Barhoma, Caitlin Dukes, and Aaron Spolin celebrate with client R.H. and case manager Hemi Tann

Some of the Spolin Law attorneys celebrate with the client days after he is released from prison. Pictured (left to right): Matthew Barhoma (Of Counsel attorney), Caitlin Dukes (attorney), Aaron Spolin (attorney), R.H. (client), Hemi Tann (Case Manager)

Spolin Law achieved justice on another case a few weeks ago when the firm’s attorneys successfully overturned a murder conviction for an innocent client who had been convicted of murder. This was the second overturned murder conviction the firm has achieved within the past six months for different clients. (To see info about previous successful cases, visit the Awards & Media section of the Spolin Law website).

The client had been convicted of first-degree murder (Penal Code 187), attempted murder (Penal Code 664/187) and robbery with a gun enhancement (Penal Code 211) in 2004 and had been in state custody since his arrest in 2002. Since that time, he has attempted to appeal his conviction multiple times and with different attorneys. He hired Spolin Law to handle the most recent (and successful) petition several months ago. The firm’s appeals attorneys who handled his case included former prosecutor Aaron Spolin, Of Counsel attorney Matthew Barhoma, and former prosecutor Caitlin Dukes. Ms. Dukes conducted the oral argument for Spolin Law based on the firm’s written submission. Attorney Winston McKesson, the client’s long-time personal lawyer, was also present and provided valuable assistance that aided the firm’s written submission and oral argument on the matter.

The client’s murder conviction was defective for a number of reasons. First, the client—who was 15 years old at the time—was not actually present at the scene of the crime. He was convicted due to his partial fingerprint being on the car at the scene of the crime and an eyewitness describing one of the teenage robbers having “an afro.” After the conviction occurred, the eyewitness clarified that she had not actually seen the client at the crime scene. The second fault in the murder conviction resulted from the fact that the client was convicted under the “felony murder” theory that has since been removed from the law books. Specifically, the client was convicted of “murder” because the old law stated that a person could be convicted of murder even if they participated in a felony and during the course of this felony a person unintentionally died. Under the old law, a person could have been guilty of murder even if they did not want to physically harm anyone and had no idea that a death would occur. The court relied on this second line of argument to strike the murder conviction.

Superior Court Judge James Otto, in overturning the murder conviction, determined that the client was not a “major participant who acted with reckless indifference to human life.” This determination was the primary point of argument for the lawyers on the case. (Please note that prior successful outcomes do not guarantee a similar result on a future case).

The above photo was taken at the Spolin Law office where some of the team members celebrated the client’s release and gave him a $300 Men’s Warehouse gift certificate (a firm tradition) to help his professional advancement. The client was present with his wife, who had never lost faith in him throughout the seventeen years, five months, and two days of his jail and prison time. She—and the client—had lost multiple other appeals, but they never gave up. In the end, the client won his freedom and can now start his life anew. He already has a job giving lectures and presentations about wrongful convictions and how to live a crime-free life.

To speak with one of the attorneys at Spolin Law about this case or any other criminal law matter, please call us at (866) 716-2805. The firm handles state and federal post-conviction matters.