The Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA): Claims to Raise in a PCRA Petition


6/25/2018

Filing a Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition is one of the options that you have after you are convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania. A PCRA lawyer in Philadelphia like Lauren Wimmer will be able to determine whether you are eligible for PCRA relief. After working for a Philadelphia homicide judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for a number of years, attorney Lauren Wimmer learned the ins and outs of Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act, how to get PCRA relief for her clients, the types of claims that need to be raised in a PCRA petition to be granted an evidentiary hearing, and how to win a new trial. The following guide is intended to provide a basic overview of the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) and the PCRA process for defendants and their families.

Defendants may be able to file a Post-Conviction Relief Act petition if certain criteria is met. To have any chance at PCRA relief, you must have been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania, sentenced by a judge, and still serving a sentence in prison or be on probation or parole for that specific conviction. Then, your conviction must be the result of a specific issue that the Post-Conviction Relief Act provides for in the statute. The most common claims raised are:

Ineffective assistance of counsel – This issue may be raised in a PCRA petition where the claims concern trial counsel, plea counsel, appellate counsel, or PCRA counsel. Under the Act, your attorney’s performance, in your particular case, “so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543. For example, your trial lawyer may have failed to file a specific motion, failed to object to the introduction of certain evidence at trial or failed to investigate an alibi witness. If you pleaded guilty, your attorney or plea lawyer may have neglected to file a notice of appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, even after you told him or her to do so. Defense counsel on appeal may have forgotten to include a certain claim in your Rule 1925(b) Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal. PCRA counsel may have missed an issue that should have been raised in an amended PCRA petition. Attorneys are not perfect – chances are there is a potential ineffective assistance of counsel claim in every case where a defendant has been convicted of a crime.

A violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution or the Constitution of the United States of America – such as a violation of Article § 1 Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which provides that a defendant is entitled to a speedy trial or the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution

The imposition of a sentence greater than the lawful maximum – in basic words, every misdemeanor and felony crime in Pennsylvania has a certain number assigned to it. The higher the number, the more time and the harsher the penalty or sentence a judge can impose on you. Pennsylvania has a Sentencing Matrix which is a chart that tells you what a judge should sentence you to for each crime. This number may change if you are convicted of using a weapon or possessing a weapon and whether you have a prior conviction or not. If the judge sentences you higher and outside of that Sentencing Matrix and fails to say specific reasons for doing so on the record, you may be able to file a claim in a PCRA petition that your sentence is illegal.

The unavailability at the time of trial of exculpatory evidence that has subsequently become available and would have changed the outcome of the trial if it had been introduced – this issue means exactly what it sounds – new evidence. The major focus of this issue is whether the evidence would have changed the outcome of the trial. The evidence cannot be cumulative, meaning it cannot be the same as other evidence already presented at trial, and it cannot be used solely to impeach the credibility of a witness, e.g. to show that the witness was lying at trial.

A PCRA petition must be filed within one year a defendants judgement of sentence becomes final. A judgment of sentence becomes final, for example, 30 days after you are sentenced if you do not file an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, or 30 days after the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirms the judgment of sentence, in other words, when the Superior Court agrees with the trial court that you are not entitled to a new trial or a lesser sentence, 30 days after that. If you do not file your petition within one year, you will only be eligible for relief if your claim falls into one of three very limited exceptions. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1). If you are interested in filing a PCRA petition or learning about whether you are eligible for PCRA relief, schedule a risk free consultation with Wimmer Criminal Defense at (215) 712-1212 today.