Time limitation issues often come into play in many Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petitions. Section 9545 specifies a one year time limitation for PCRA petitions. Under Pennsylvania criminal appellate law, a PCRA petition must be filed within 1 year of the date the judgment becomes final unless one of the exceptions under section 9545(b)(1) applies and the petition is filed within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented.
In addition, the PCRA timeliness requirements are jurisdictional; Pennsylvania courts will strictly construe the exceptions. This basically means that the PCRA court will not review the merits of the PRCA claim unless it initially finds that the petition was filed in a timely manner or otherwise meets one of the exceptions.
Basically, the clock starts ticking on the date the judgment becomes final. If the 1 year time deadline has passed, the facts must fit within one of the three statutory exceptions, two of which are discussed below: governmental interference and newly discovered evidence.
Key Sections of Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act § 9545. Jurisdiction and proceedings. [*The following does not include the entire sections of the cited statute and is current as of June 2014]
(a) Original jurisdiction.–Original jurisdiction over a proceeding under this subchapter shall be in the court of common pleas. No court shall have authority to entertain a request for any form of relief in anticipation of the filing of a petition under this subchapter.
(b) Time for filing petition.–
(1) Any petition under this subchapter, including a second or subsequent petition, shall be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final, unless the petition alleges and the petitioner proves that:
(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States;
(ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or
(iii) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provided in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively.
(2) Any petition invoking an exception provided in paragraph (1) shall be filed within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented.
(3) For purposes of this subchapter, a judgment becomes final at the conclusion of direct review, including discretionary review in the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, or at the expiration of time for seeking the review.
(4) For purposes of this subchapter, “government officials” shall not include defense counsel, whether appointed or retained.
[**Sections (c) and (d) omitted.]
Legal Discussion & Example
Example – Brady Violation & Newly Discovered Evidence
A Philadelphia area man is arrested and convicted of murder. There was a sole eyewitness to the crime who identified the defendant in a line-up. The crux of the prosecution’s case was based on the eyewitness testimony and identification. The physical evidence was not strong. After the 1 year time limit of the PCRA passed, the defendant learns that the eyewitness recanted her testimony in a written statement to police, before the trial. The prosecutor never provided a copy of that statement to the defendant.
Here, the facts support two exceptions: the governmental interference (Brady violation) exception and the newly discovered evidence exception. The failure to provide the eyewitness statement constitutes a Brady violation. Other examples of the types of governmental interference which qualify under this section include false statements by witnesses or evidence that a witness was paid as an informant.
In addition, the written statement constitutes newly discovered evidence, which in this instance, was not discoverable by the exercise of due diligence, is exculpatory in nature, and would have made a difference in the outcome of trial.
So long as the defendant complies with subsection (2), and files his PCRA petition within 60 days of learning about the statement, the court would likely grant review of his petition. If the evidence is sufficient, the court would likely grant defendant a new trial.
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