Criminal Appeals in Philadelphia Criminal Cases

 

Philadelphia Criminal Appellate Lawyer

The job of a criminal lawyer often ends when the client’s case is resolved, either by way of a trial or plea. Most criminal lawyers will end their representation when the client is acquitted, i.e., gets a “Not Guilty” jury verdict, or takes a plea to a lesser crime and is sentenced.

Criminal Appeals in Philadelphia

However, the job of an appellate lawyer only begins when the criminal case is completed (i.e., the client is sentenced). The best criminal appeals lawyers certainly have their work cut out for them. Analyzing a Philadelphia criminal case for valid appeal issues requires an in-depth understanding of criminal law, procedure, trial tactics and of course, appellate law. That’s why criminal lawyers do not always practice appellate law. It’s not uncommon to find that instead of handling an appeals case on their own, a criminal lawyer in Philadelphia will refer the case to another lawyer. If you lost a criminal trial in Philadelphia, click here to learn about what you can do.

3 Appeal Issues to Consider in a Typical Philadelphia Criminal Case

There are many issues which can form the basis for an appeal or Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition. Every case varies, and every criminal lawyer varies. Therefore, determining whether there are meritorious appeals issues requires analyzing the entire case, from start to finish. There may be suppression issues which must be reviewed, or there may be trial errors which affected the outcome of the case. In addition, the timeline of the case is also crucial and determines which type of appeal to pursue. What most people don’t know is that under Pennsylvania criminal law, direct appeals are different than PCRA petitions.

1. Post-Sentence Motions

jury trialA criminal appeals lawyer may be hired around the time of sentencing. It’s not uncommon for someone who lost at trial to hire another lawyer before sentencing. For example, someone who lost a robbery trial and is facing a long prison sentence may go out and hire another lawyer because of what’s at stake. There are many sentencing issues which may be raised, such as mitigation. It may be appropriate to prepare evidence for the sentencing hearing, such as statements from friends, family members, employers, etc.

After sentencing occurs, a criminal defendant has the ability to file a motion with the original sentencing court. So long as the legal time requirements are met, a post-sentence motion may be appropriate. Post-sentence motions filed under Rule 710 of the PA Rules of Criminal Procedure may raise many issues. However, successful post-sentence motions will raise a valid legal issue, i.e., a recent court opinion which affects the case. For example, the day after sentencing, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issues a ruling favorable to the defendant. This new court ruling may be appropriate for a post-sentencing motion.

2. Direct Appeals

Like with post-sentence motions, direct appeals in criminal cases in Philadelphia must be filed within certain time limitations. In general, direct appeals must be filed within 30 days of the date the sentencing order is entered, or 30 days from the date of the conviction. Direct appeals are filed with the intermediate appellate court, the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The grounds for an appeal will vary from case to case. One of the most common issues raised on direct appeal is court rulings on legal issues and at trial. For instance, a criminal defendant may appeal a ruling which allowed specific evidence into the record. However, the issue must have been preserved for appeal. Basically, if the issue wasn’t raised during the case, the appeals court has no way to examine the issue.

3. PCRA

Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act is probably one of the most complex areas of criminal law. The time deadlines to file a PCRA petition is much longer than the deadlines to file a post-sentence motion or direct appeal. PCRA petitions must be filed 1 year from the date of the judgment. For example, if a direct appeal is unsuccessful, a PCRA petition may be filed 1 year from the date of the conclusion of the direct appeal.

There are specific issues which may be raised in a PCRA petition, such as ineffective assistance of counsel or newly discovered evidence. Ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claims are the most common types of claims raised in PCRA petitions. IAC claims are successful where the evidence shows that the lawyer’s actions were unreasonable and didn’t advance the client’s interests, and the actions caused the client real harm (i.e., made a difference in the outcome of the case).

Below are two examples of successful IAC claims.

Example 1: Trial Lawyer Failed to Call Witnesses

At a criminal trial for assault, the trial lawyer fails to call a witness who would testify that the alleged victim was high on drugs at the time of the assault. The witness would also testify that the victim had a reputation as a liar and had in fact, filed false charges against another individual in the past. The trial lawyer fails to investigate the witness’ story and doesn’t call the witness at trial. The client is convicted of assault. Here, so long as the evidence was sufficient, there would be a valid IAC claim.

Example 2: Trial Lawyer Failed to Raise a Valid Suppression Issue

Using the same example above, let’s say that the criminal defendant made a Mirandized (voluntary) statement admitting to the assault at the time of arrest. Police officers arrested the client on the street. The officers roughhoused the client just before he made the statement. Even though the client told the attorney about this, the attorney did nothing. Subsequent video footage from a nearby business shows that the officers did, in fact, roughhouse the client just before the client’s statement. Here, the existence of the video footage supports the client’s version of events, and had the trial lawyer investigated the issue, he would have found the video footage. Therefore, a suppression motion could have been made and the statement may have been thrown out.

Criminal appellate issues are often very complex and require extensive knowledge of criminal law and trial tactics. If you or a loved one needs help with a criminal appeal in Philadelphia, please call.

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Last updated: January 6, 2016