Being charged with a crime in Philadelphia can make even the strongest of people feel as if their world is collapsing. Wimmer Criminal Defense, the preeminent criminal defense law firm in Philadelphia, has put together the below guide to help you become acquainted with some of the terms you may hear as you navigate the…
Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Relief
In Pennsylvania, there are many criminal appeals and post-conviction relief options for those who have already gone to trial and lost. Sometimes judges and prosecutors make mistakes in presenting evidence and understanding the law. Other times, your conviction may be based on incomplete information, or you may have gone to trial with an attorney who failed to do their job. You might be entitled a new trial or to have your verdict overturned based on these kinds of mistakes. You can have an experienced aggressive Philadelphia criminal lawyer at your side this time.
If you have not already exhausted your options, our attorneys may be able to file appeals for you. To begin discussing the details of a conviction, contact our criminal appeals and post-conviction relief attorneys today to for a free consultation at 215-712-1212.
When Can You Appeal?
An arrest and a trial are only the first part of a criminal case. After trial, every defendant is constitutionally guaranteed a right to appeal their case to the appellate court. This first appeal is called a “direct appeal” and focuses on mistakes of law at the trial level.
Your original trial is the only stage at which facts are determined. This means that the decision a jury reached can’t be re-examined by the next court unless the verdict violated the law. What they can examine is the following:
- The trial judge’s rulings on suppression and police evidence collection
- Whether evidence should have been admissible or not
- Whether witness testimony should have been admissible or not
- Legal definitions of the elements of a crime
- Proper jury instructions
- Whether there was legally enough evidence to convict
- Constitutional issues
- Any other issue of law
Any incorrect decisions that the judge made during this process may “overturn” your conviction and give you a retrial or negotiate a better plea deal.
Further, if you lose an appeal, you may be allowed to appeal that decision as well. In that case, your case will go up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest court in Pennsylvania and is allowed to interpret Pennsylvania law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is not required to hear every case, and may deny a “writ of certiorari,” which would end your direct appeal.
In some situations, you can appeal the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision (or denial to hear the case) to the Supreme Court of the United States. This is usually the case if the issues in your appeal deal with interpreting the United States Constitution and the protections in its Amendments.
Direct appeals have a deadline and must be filed within 30 days of your conviction (or other, particular dates). If you miss this deadline, or you have already taken your appeals as far as they go, you might still be entitled to file what is called a “collateral appeal.”
If you have already exhausted your direct appeals, you may be able to file a different kind of appeal called a “collateral appeal.” Collateral appeals are usually filed under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act. These petitions and the act are often abbreviated as “PCRA,” and can be based on any of seven different grounds. A PCRA asks the government to release you from prison and give you a new trial, completely resetting your trial and giving you a second chance.
To qualify for a court to grant you a new trial based on your PCRA, you must meet one of any of these following seven conditions:
- Your constitutional rights were violated to such a degree that your trial can’t be trusted to reliably determine your guilt or innocence.
- Your lawyer was so ineffective that your trial can’t be trusted to reliably determine your guilt or innocence.
- You were forced to plead guilty to a crime you didn’t commit.
- The government interfered with your ability to appeal your trial, and you had a legally valid reason to appeal your case.
- New evidence was discovered, that was not available at the time of trial, and can help show your innocence.
- Your sentence was above the legal maximum.
- The court that tried your case actually didn’t have the legal power to try it. This power to hear a case is called “jurisdiction,” and is usually based on the location and type of crime.
Generally, these cases are extremely rare, but do occur.
If a PCRA doesn’t work, there may be options to appeal your case to the US government under a “habeus corpus petition.” These are the last lines of defense to get people out of prison when the government has no legal right to hold them in jail.
Your case may have vital deadlines which, if missed, could exhaust your chance for an appeal. For that reason, it is essential that you begin the process as quickly as possible. My name is Lauren Wimmer and as an experienced criminal appeals and post-conviction relief attorney I can help. I invite you to contact Wimmer Criminal Defense or call 215-712-1212 for a free consultation today.
If You Would Like to Appeal Your Case, Call Us Today
If you or a loved one has been unfairly convicted of a crime, call today for a free, confidential consultation.