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Last updated: April 18, 2016
No matter the case or jurisdiction, every criminal conviction in Pennsylvania may be appealed to a higher court for review. When an individual appeals his conviction, it means he asks the higher court to review certain aspects of the case for legal errors and change the decision of the lower court. A legal error may reverse the conviction itself or the sentence imposed.
Though each case is unique, appeals in criminal cases in Pennsylvania often arise under the following circumstances:
- a defendant was wrongly convicted and there was not sufficient evidence to prove his/her guilt;
- the trial attorney performed poorly throughout the course of the case—also known as ineffective assistance of counsel in PA;
- new evidence surfaced after the trial proving the defendant’s innocence or mitigating his involvement;
- a defendant initially pled guilty but the plea was not made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily and now wishes to withdraw the plea;
- a motion to dismiss, a motion to suppress or other pre-trial motions were wrongly denied by the trial court; or
- the defendant believes he was not provided a fair trial.
Criminal appellate law and procedures in Pennsylvania are very complicated and arduous; they often involve a very lengthy process. If you have been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania, there are several methods of appealing your case.
Through a motion for acquittal, an individual can request the judge to decide there is not enough evidence to convict him/her regardless of a jury verdict. The defendant may also make a motion for a new trial requesting the trial judge to declare a mistrial and grant the defendant a new trial. A defendant can also file post-sentence motions challenging the weight of the evidence or the sentence.
More: Lost a Criminal Trial in Philadelphia? What to Know About Pennsylvania’s Post-Trial (Criminal) Procedures [Learn about post-trial motion practice in Philadelphia, PA criminal cases. Trial court rulings may be appealed directly via post-trial motions, or new evidence/new law may be presented via post-trial motions.]
Criminal appeals in Pennsylvania may be made in both the state and federal systems to the appellate courts in their respective jurisdictions. By filing an appeal, the defendant contends that the trial judge made some legal error. An appeal can be made over the conviction itself or the sentence imposed by the judge. The appeal process is procedurally and legally difficult to navigate without an experienced attorney. If certain deadlines are not met, you could lose your appellate rights forever and be barred from getting back into court.
Writ of Habeas Corpus/Habeas Corpus Petition
Habeas Corpus petitions are filed when a defendant wants to challenge the legality of his imprisonment or the conditions of their imprisonment. Essentially, a defendant who files a Habeas Corpus petition contends that he is being held in violation of some state law or constitutional right. Once the petition is granted, the court issues a Writ of Habeas Corpus ordering the prison to deliver the defendant to court for his claim to be heard. These proceedings are a powerful tool available to citizens to keep the government and prison officials in check by ensuring individuals are not unlawfully detained and deprived of constitutional rights. Where an abuse of power is found, the court may order the release of the prisoner or an end to improper jail conditions.
Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)
Generally, within one year of the final decision in your case—the date the sentence was imposed, the date the Superior Court issues its decision denying your direct appeal, etc.—you can file a PCRA with the trial court. Common issues raised in PCRA petitions include:
- ineffective assistance of counsel,
- prosecutorial misconduct,
- illegal sentence, or
- newly discovered evidence.
The issue most often raised on a PCRA is ineffective assistance of counsel. When a PCRA is filed regarding ineffective assistance of counsel, it is our goal to have the trial judge order an evidentiary hearing where the trial attorney is often ordered to take the stand as a witness and answer questions such as why he/she made certain decisions at trial, failed to object to evidence that may not have been admissible, whether he/she conveyed certain pre-trial offers to you or why he/she failed to file certain motions or an appeal in a timely fashion. If the PCRA court believes that the original lawyer was ineffective, the conviction can be overturned, the sentence vacated or appeal rights can be reinstated. Access our free law library for legal articles about PCRA and criminal appeals in PA.
The criminal lawyers at Nenner & Namerow, P.C. have substantial experience appealing convictions and sentencing orders in criminal cases. We pride ourselves on our staunch advocacy and vigorous representation of clients and place their rights at the forefront of our responsibilities. We understand the complex legal issues and procedural processes that arise in criminal appeals and skillfully pursue the fundamental fairness every defendant is entitled to.
Firm founder David S. Nenner has decades of experience handling criminal cases, including appeals. Mr. Nenner is recognized as a Top Criminal Defense Attorney in Philadelphia by Super Lawyers magazine (2015, 2016).
Call us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case: (215) 564-0644.