Post-Conviction Options in Philadelphia
The moment that you receive a guilty verdict can be devastating. After weeks and months of worry, it is overwhelming to face the prospect of sentencing and, perhaps, prison. It’s especially disheartening when you believe that there were serious errors in your trial that, if corrected, would lead to a very different result.
Thankfully, you still have options even if you’ve been convicted of a criminal offense. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer will work with you every step of the way until you get justice. Unfortunately, however, time is not on your side – contact us at 215-712-1212 today to schedule a free consultation to learn about how we can help you get the result you deserve.
What is the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)?
It is an unfortunate reality that innocent people can be wrongly convicted. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys can make mistakes in applying the law or commit constitutional violations that result in a conviction. The Post-Conviction Relief Act is a Pennsylvania law that gives wrongfully convicted defendants a means to correct these errors and violations to obtain a better outcome. Generally speaking, there are two possible outcomes if you are successful:
- The judge will vacate your conviction and order a new trial; or
- The judge will order a new sentencing hearing.
- The potential outcome will depend on the issues in your case and the relief sought in your petition.
The PCRA is extremely technical, and it is very difficult for non-lawyers to navigate its requirements successfully. An experienced PCRA attorney is indispensable if you want to be successful. A successful PCRA petition will require extensive knowledge of sophisticated legal issues, clear writing, and the ability to construct a compelling argument. You may have only one opportunity to file a PCRA petition, so it’s important that you make the most of it.
Do I Have a Basis for Filing a PCRA Petition?
A PCRA petition can be filed only if you meet one of the bases provided for by the Act. In order to be eligible for relief under the PCRA, you must allege that one of the following issues led to your conviction:
- A violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution or the United States Constitution. The Act specifies that the violation “so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.”
- You received inadequate legal representation, referred to as “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Note that the Act again specifies that it must rise to the level that “no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.” The statute specifically states that strategic decisions do not qualify as “ineffective assistance of counsel.”
- You were “unlawfully induced” to plead guilty when you were innocent.
- You were obstructed from filing an appeal by government officials.
- You have obtained exculpatory evidence that was unavailable at the time of trial.
- You were given a sentence that exceeded the maximum sentence imposed by law.
- You were tried in a court that did not have jurisdiction over your case.
You cannot file a PCRA petition unless you meet one of the criteria listed above. In addition, you cannot file a PCRA petition if the issue has been previously litigated or you waived your right to raise the issue.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Ineffective assistance of counsel is the most common basis for filing a PCRA petition. As noted above, strategic decisions that you disagree with or other minor mistakes do not rise to the level required by the Act. Here are some examples of what may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel:
- Failing to investigate the facts of your case thoroughly
- Failing to interview critical witnesses or call those witnesses to testify
- Missing important deadlines to file motions or take other actions
- Failing to object to improper evidence or testimony
- Failing to object to or appeal legal errors made by the judge
The fact that you were convicted does not necessarily mean that you received inadequate legal representation. Ineffective assistance of counsel is rarely black-and-white, and whether an attorney failed to provide the requisite level of assistance is a matter open to interpretation. That said, an experienced PCRA attorney can evaluate your case and determine whether you qualify to file a PCRA petition.
How is a PCRA Petition Different from an Appeal?
An appeal raises legal errors pertaining to how the law was interpreted or applied in your case. Your appeal is heard by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which consists of a panel of judges. The appeal court will review the legal issues raised by your appeal and then render a decision by majority vote. At that point, the court will either affirm the trial court’s decision or return the case to the trial court to correct the error and for further proceedings. In some instances, a successful appeal may mean that your case is over.
By contrast, your PCRA petition does not go to a higher court for review. It is filed with the trial court and is heard by the judge who presided over your case. If that judge has retired or is otherwise off the bench, your petition will be heard by another trial judge. If successful, the judge will vacate your judgment and order a new trial.
If your petition is denied, you can then appeal your petition to the Pennsylvania Superior Court for review. Your appeal must be filed within 30 days of the decision, or you will have waived your right to appeal the judge’s decision.
What is the Deadline for Filing a PCRA Petition?
Defendants are given considerably more time in filing a PCRA petition than is allowed for filing an appeal. You can file your petition within one year of your sentence becoming final, so long as you are still serving your sentence at the time you filed your petition.
Convicted? Contact Philadelphia PCRA Attorney Lauren Wimmer
If you’ve been wrongfully convicted, don’t lose your rights by waiting – the sooner you speak with an experienced PCRA attorney, the closer you are to getting a fair and just outcome in your case. Philadelphia PCRA lawyer Lauren Wimmer uses her knowledge, skills, and experience to fight for her clients’ rights until your options are exhausted. Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation.