The Superior Court of Pennsylvania is one of two intermediate appellate courts in the Commonwealth. It is the principal court on the intermediate level, being responsible for reviewing almost all the civil, criminal and other decisions made by juries or judges from the Courts of Common Pleas. Since all parties in a case are granted the right of appeal, the Superior Court adjudicates decisions made in all 67 Pennsylvania counties. It's earned the reputation of being among the busiest state appellate courts in the entire nation.
If you lost a case in a Common Pleas court decision, and feel that the decision was unjust or unfair, you should take full advantage of your right to appeal. In the event that you do, your case will be heard by the Superior Court. The Superior Court hears a wide range of issues from litigants, most of them being cases filed by defendants due to the automatic right of appeal. As a result, this court ends up reviewing many, if not the majority, of criminal cases.
Once you file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, a process commences. For the purposes of this article, I'll provide a vague timeline of this process.
1. Filing a notice of appeal
A notice of appeal is the initial step in the appeals process. It is a written document filed by an appellant - which would be a defendant in a criminal case - informing the Superior Court and an opposing party that they seek a review of the case. Generally, this notice must be filed in the trial court within 30 days of a decision and/or sentence. The failure to file a notice of appeal in accordance with statutory requirements will end the process before it gets a chance to begin.
2. The issuing a briefing schedule
After filing a notice of appeal and filling out a docketing statement, you and your representation will be tasked with producing a brief. An appellate brief is a formal court document that lays out all of the arguments and grounds a defendant plans to make on appeal. Typically a complete appellate brief contains the question presented, a summary of facts of the case, what a defendant wishes for the court to do, and the reasons why the appeal should be permitted. Once this brief has been filed, the respondent has only a few days to file their own reply brief, addressing these arguments and explaining why the court should leave things as is.
In some cases, defendants may opt to orally argue their brief. If this is your case, you will be given a date, time, and place to make your case.
3. A decision is made
Depending on the circumstances, it may take the Superior Court, days, or up to a year to come to a decision. Because of the court's caseload, don't expect your appeal to be heard and adjudicated overnight. According to the Pennsylvania Superior Court government website, the median time for all appeals is approximately 245 days.
Once decided, the Prothonotary will send a copy of the opinion, memorandum, or other judgment to all parties involved by first class mail.