Presenting a criminal appeal or Post Conviction Relief Act Petition (PCRA) in Pennsylvania requires great skill. For example, reviewing a criminal case for ineffective assistance of counsel claims requires not only reviewing the trial transcript, but also understanding the evidence in the underlying case. In many cases, raising ineffective assistance of counsel claims also requires investigation of additional or new evidence.
One of the mistakes commonly made in filing appeals or PCRA petitions in PA is the kitchen sink approach. This is where an appeal or petition contains a laundry list of issues for the appellate court to review, everything but the kitchen sink. For example, a person convicted of murder files an appeal and raises every conceivable issue instead of raising the key ones, or the ones with actual merit.
Pennsylvania Criminal Murder Case Appeal – An Example of the Kitchen Sink Approach
Commonwealth v. Perez is a 2011 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case where the defendant raised 25 issues on appeal. The case involved the murder of a mother and her young child in Berks County, PA. The defendant was convicted on both counts of murder, and due to aggravating circumstances, he was sentenced to death. In his appeal, he raised multiple issues but failed to substantiate most of them. The court was not impressed, stating:
Appellant raises twenty-five lettered issues, nearly exhausting the alphabet, and causing us to reiterate that volume does not equal quality. Appellant’s brief is replete with beyond-boilerplate allegations containing sparse argument and even less citation to supporting authority or identification of pertinent portions of the record.
Why the Kitchen Sink Approach Doesn’t Work
Under Pennsylvania criminal appellate law, failing to develop legal arguments or cite any legal cases constitutes waiver of the issue. This basically means that throwing boilerplate appellate issues in a criminal appeal without any supporting argument or case law will only hurt the appeal.
Appellate court judges in Pennsylvania are some of the best and brightest legal minds in the state. They can quickly determine if an appellate issue has merit or not. However, when faced with a kitchen sink appeal, judges are more likely to tune out. The kitchen sink appeal almost certainly guarantees denial of the relief requested.
In addition, the problem with the kitchen sink approach is that it all but guarantees the denial of real, appealable issues. Basically, the key to a successful appeal is zeroing in on one or two issues and then developing the appeal around those specific issues. This requires poring over the trial record to identify parts of the record to support the appealable issues and if necessary, conducting additional investigation to support the claims.
Criminal Appeals Lawyer in Pennsylvania
Our criminal lawyers handle appeals in Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, please call our office at (215) 564-0644.
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