A guilty verdict is not the end of the road for defendants in Delaware County. You don't have to accept this decision as final. If you are dissatisfied with a case outcome, you can potentially overturn your conviction by appealing.
An appeal is a formal request to a higher court to re-examine the procedure or decisions of a lower court. In order to obtain a new hearing and get a second chance, you have to go through the county's appeal process. In this article, we'll address what to expect when filing an appeal in Delaware County.
Filing an Appeal In Delaware County
It's important to remember that the right to appeal is only afforded to defendants who pleaded “not guilty” in a trial. (Guilty pleas require a motion to withdraw a plea before an appeal can be granted; barring extremely narrow circumstances otherwise).
Since the Delaware County appeals process is lengthy and complex, it is recommended that all defendants proceed with the assistance of an experienced attorney who's been through this process in this county before. Without representation, you run the risk of missing important deadlines, leaving out important details, or making any other serious mistakes that could jeopardize your chances of getting a new hearing.
An appeal cannot be made only because you were not satisfied with the decision. It must be based on grounds, or good reason, for it to be granted. Some common legal grounds for appealing include:
- Lack of sufficient evidence: the evidence presented in a trial doesn't meet the evidentiary standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
- Inadmissible evidence: the evidence presented in a trial was collected illegally or did not follow the established rules of evidence upheld by the court.
- Plain error: an error in procedure was made at some point throughout the criminal prosecution process and it affected your rights.
These legal grounds will be listed in the notice of appeal and sent to the Delaware County Clerk of the Common Pleas. Your defense attorney should take care of this step for you.
Time Limit and Fees
In Chester County, you must file an appeal within 30 days of the original court decision. If the 30th day happens to fall on a weekend or holiday, you have until the next business day to file the notice of appeal. The county charges a $57.50 non-refundable fee for filing to the clerk of courts, and a $73.50 fee to the Commonwealth or Superior Court.
Next, you'll receive what's known as a “criminal docketing statement” and other important documents to fill out. This is a very dull and monotonous point in the process, but it's crucial. Making sure that you meet all submission deadlines and don't make mistakes should be your goal. Soon after these documents have been submitted and processed, the oral arguments will begin.
Oral arguments are a short but an imperative part of the Delaware County appeals process. Based on your appeal brief, a judge will make one of three decisions: to modify, affirm, or vacate your appeal. If the option “vacate” is chosen, this means it is ruled in your favor and you'll be granted a new trial. Although “affirm” sounds promising, it's misleading, this decision means that the judge ruled against you and affirmed the original court's ruling. If the judge chooses “modify,” the judge only partially supports the ruling and will change parts of it if need be.
Appellate hearings from the Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court level will begin at the Court of Common Pleas. But if you lose here, all hope isn't lost. There are options to appeal to higher courts like the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and if granted the right to pursue an appeal further, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. If you win at either one of these levels, you'll either be given a reduced sentence, or your case will be dismissed. The prosecution also has the option to appeal this decision to a higher court for a new ruling, so that's another possibility.
Delaware County Appellate Attorney
For a more detailed account of the Delaware County appeals process, you should contact skilled and experienced appellate attorney Joseph D. Lento. He can help you evaluate whether an appeal is an ideal option for you. He's helped many of his clients successfully overturn their convictions and win their new trials. Contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5353.