Many defendants who lose their trial or regret their decision of pleading guilty are oftentimes dissatisfied with the result and choose to appeal. One method of appealing a conviction and obtaining a new trial or sentencing is through Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). Much like other appeal options in Pennsylvania, PCRA Petitions are intricate and can be difficult to win. But with the help of a skilled attorney, and under the right circumstances, a successful petition of an appeal through PCRA is possible and effective.
Filing an Appeal Under the Post-Conviction Relief Act
There are conditions in which a defendant can petition an appeal under the PCRA. According to statutory law, these conditions include:
- There occurred a violation of the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the United States Constitution which, in the circumstances of the particular case, substantially undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place
- Ineffective assistance of counsel
- A plea of “guilty” was unlawfully induced
- Government officials wrongly obstructed a defendant's right to appeal where an issue for appeal was present and capable of being appealed
- Evidence favorable to the defendant has now become available and would have changed the outcome of the trial if it had been introduced
- The imposition of a sentence greater than the lawful maximum
- A proceeding in a tribunal without jurisdiction
A PCRA must be filed within one year of a denial of a direct appeal, or one year after a verdict (if a defendant chooses not to use a direct appeal). There are, however, some exceptions. If counsel abandons a defendant within this process, the government blocks a PCRA filing, new evidence could not have been known within the one-year period, or the court has determined an extension is necessary, the one-year deadline may not be applicable.
Differences Between a Direct Appeal and a PCRA Petition
There is only one other appeal option aside from a PCRA that can get a defendant a new trial or sentencing; this option is known as direct appeal.
A direct appeal is filed in the Superior Court and deals with legal errors committed within the trial process. The Superior Court identifies whether there are technical procedural errors like improperly denied motions, inaccurate jury instructions, and erroneous evidentiary rulings, to reverse a conviction in a direct appeal.
A PCRA, on the other hand, is heard by the same trial judge who originally presided over the case. It's the duty of the said judge to determine if a new trial/sentencing is necessary due to factors that aren't restricted to procedural errors. As indicated above, a successful PCRA will be permitted if a judge can identify several circumstances, like an undoubtedly ineffective counsel, a change of constitutional law, the discovery of new evidence etc.
Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Attorney
Whether you are contemplating approaching an appeal directly or through PCRA, you need the help of a skilled attorney. This area of law is complex and is chock full of deadlines and steps that can hurt your chances of winning an appeal if you aren't careful. Criminal appeal attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented clients in PCRA petitions and direct appeal to the Superior Court. Contact him today.