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Philadelphia Post-Conviction After-Discovered Evidence Test


7/27/2020

If you or someone you love has been wrongfully convicted of a crime or excessively sentenced after a trial or guilty plea, a knowledgeable Philadelphia criminal defense attorney who specializes in the Post-Conviction Relief Act, otherwise known as the PCRA, can help. A court case does not necessarily end with the jury announcing its verdict and a judge imposing a sentence. Whether a wrongful conviction takes place because of a legal error made by a trial judge or due to the ineffective assistance of counsel provided by the criminal defense attorney during your trial or appeal, both Pennsylvania and federal laws provide several ways to challenge a wrongful conviction.

What Is the PCRA?

The Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) is a Pennsylvania statute that allows under certain conditions for a defendant “serving a sentence” either currently in jail or on probation the opportunity to challenge their conviction, even after a failed direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

The purpose of a PCRA depends on the defendant. Many challenges cite the ineffective assistance of a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer or the lawyer’s assistance in the defendant’s decision to plead guilty. Other challenges stem from retroactive changes to constitutional law or the discovery of new evidence that would have changed the defendant’s decision to enter a plea or the ultimate results of the trial. 

Anyone interested in using the PCRA to their benefit needs to understand that the Act is complicated and strict deadlines are applied. It is essential to speak to an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure you meet any and all applicable deadlines. 

PCRA Changes in 2018

Three significant changes were made to the PCRA in 2018. Incarcerated defendants or those on probation need to be aware of these changes and how they could help or hurt their case.

  1. The deadline for filing a petition under the PCRA arising from newly discovered evidence is now 1 year instead of 60 days. This change provides a reasonable timeframe for the defendant or their Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer to file their petition after discovering result-changing evidence post-trial. Such a substantial change to the PCRA is in support of defendant rights in Pennsylvania. 
  2. Before the new PCRA rules, a defendant had to be serving a probation or incarceration sentence in order to be eligible to file a petition based on D.N.A. testing. Now, defendants can file a petition even when they are not on probation or in prison. 
  3. Under the new changes, defendants who pleaded guilty are allowed to pursue D.N.A. testing in an effort to exonerate themselves. Previously, they could not, even if D.N.A. testing would have brought exoneration.  

Discovered Evidence Test

According to the statute, a court can grant post-conviction relief arising from newly discovered evidence if the defendant proves three points:

  • The evidence was not available at the time of the original trial.
  • The evidence is exculpatory in nature.
  • The outcome of the trial would be different if the evidence were used in the original trial.

Applicable Claims in a PCRA Petition

A PCRA petition requests a new trial or sentencing. In some situations, the act also allows for D.N.A. testing of specific evidence. The three most common claims defendants and their Philadelphia criminal defense attorney make in their PCRA petition are:

  • Ineffective assistance of counsel – Both the constitution of the United States and Pennsylvania mandates that defense counsel must be competent. If your representation fails to take adequate steps to defend you, such as thoroughly investigating your case, objecting to legal errors committed by the trial judge, or failing to file appropriate pre-trial motions, they are considered ineffective. To cite this reason, a complete review of the transcripts and a full investigation into your case will be necessary.
  • The discovery of new evidence – For evidence to be considered new, it must be unobtainable at the time of trial and only recently discovered. The defendant must be able to prove that such evidence will make a difference in the outcome of their trial.
  • A change in constitutional law – A constitutional law can change in a way that would have had a different impact on a defendant’s conviction or sentence. 

The difference between a direct appeal and a PCRA petition is that direct appeals apply to legal errors committed at the trial court level, whereas PCRA petitions apply to the discovery of new evidence or the performance of the defendant’s attorney during their trial. 

Filing a PCRA Petition and Its Timelines

You might be wondering what to expect after your Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer files your PCRA petition. Typically, courts are under no time constraints when resolving claims raised in this type of petition. Expect your litigation to take an extended period of time. Once the trial process begins, the duration of your case will depend on how complex the issues are and if there is an evidentiary hearing. Philadelphia courts usually grant several continuances that allow each side to:

  • File petitions
  • Write briefs
  • Prepare for evidentiary hearings

As such, it could take a year or more to resolve your case.

What if the Court Dismisses or Denies the PCRA Petition?

If the judge denies your petition, you have the option of appealing to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. To do so, you must file a notice of appeal within 30 days of your petition’s denial or dismissal. The Superior Court will review your allegations for any errors in the previous court’s decision. If your appeal is denied at this level, you can file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Expect the appeals process to take an extended period of time as almost every person charged and convicted challenges their case on appeal.

Wimmer Criminal Defense Law: Choose a Skilled Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer

At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, our successes in many jurisdictions throughout Pennsylvania include securing a new trial or sentencing for wrongfully convicted individuals who would have otherwise spent decades in prison due to ineffective assistance of counsel.

Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law today at 215-712-1212 or use our online contact form to book your confidential and free criminal defense case review with a skilled Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. The sooner you reach out to us, the better the chances are that we will be able to provide you with the results you want.