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.