Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Criminal Appeals in Pennsylvania & Proper Investigation

    A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case opinion reminds all lawyers, especially criminal lawyers and criminal appeals lawyers, of one of the most basic principles of law, and that is, the importance of proper investigation. Bald assertions without factual basis will almost always result in losing a case.

    gavel on law booksIn Commonwealth v. Castro (2014), the PA Supreme Court ruled against a Philadelphia area man convicted of drug possession and conspiracy to sell drugs. The issue in that case was whether after trial, the defendant could get a new trial based on a newspaper article which alleged serious corruption on the part of the primary police officer in the case. In support of his motion for a new trial (Rule 720 Motion for a New Trial), the defendant attached a single newspaper article and nothing more.

    The court ruled against the defendant in large part because the newspaper article did not cite any hard evidence. The court felt it was left to speculate as to what evidence existed showing that the police officer in Castro’s case was in fact, corrupt. Therefore, the court stated, “[W]e hold a motion must, at the very least, describe the evidence that will be presented at the hearing. Simply relying on conclusory accusations made by another, without more, is insufficient to warrant a hearing.”

    What Criminal Lawyers Can Learn From the Castro Case

    The takeaway from the Castro case is the importance of developing facts and evidence. In any criminal appeals case, whether the issue is about newly discovered evidence or ineffective assistance of counsel, the key to winning is proper investigation. Trial counsel and appellate counsel must conduct thorough investigations in order to develop sufficient evidence to support a given claim. The Castro court made it a point to call out the lawyer for having failed to refer to actual evidence in the motion for a new trial. In the last footnote of the opinion, the court noted:

    At argument, appellee’s counsel stated he had spoken with the reporters who authored the article and the FBI agents involved in the investigation, and he would offer them as witnesses; however, appellee’s motion did not mention these witnesses. Appellee was represented by different counsel on appeal due to the death of post-verdict counsel, and appellate counsel stated he would not call post-verdict counsel’s investigation into question, an understandable decision worthy of respect. This may explain matters, but it does not relieve appellee of his burden of averring to the existence of actual evidence in his motion.

    Again, the key is investigation and presenting a factual basis. Let’s examine some key investigation issues in criminal appeals/PCRA cases.

    Newly Discovered Evidence

    Criminal appeals or PCRA petitions commonly raise claims of newly discovered evidence. When evaluating a claim for newly discovered evidence, Pennsylvania criminal appellate courts and PCRA courts will employ a 4 part test (see Commonwealth v. Pagan, a 2008 PA Supreme Court case):

    (1) the new evidence could not have been obtained prior to trial by exercising reasonable diligence;

    (2) the new evidence is not merely corroborative or cumulative;

    (3) the new evidence will not be used solely to impeach a witness’s credibility; and

    (4) the new evidence would likely result in a different verdict or outcome.

    Related: Pennsylvania Court Discusses the Newly Discovered Evidence Exception under the PA PCRA

    Whether it’s a murder case or a drug case, an appeal or a PCRA petition based on newly discovered evidence must be supported by hard evidence. Pennsylvania criminal law is clear on that point. Failure to produce sufficient evidence will result in denial of the claim.

    Ineffective Assistance of Counsel & Investigation

    For ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claims, another very common claim raised in PCRA petitions in PA, a defendant has to show each of the following three elements:

    (1) the claim of ineffectiveness of counsel has arguable merit;

    (2) the lawyer’s actions were not reasonably designed to advance the interest of the defendant; and

    (3) the defendant was prejudiced by the lawyer’s actions, i.e., but for his counsel’s actions, the result of the trial would have been different.

    Succeeding in an IAC claim often requires a thorough investigation into the underlying issue. For instance, in a murder case involving a key eyewitness who disappeared before trial, it may be necessary to try to locate that witness and investigate the circumstances of the disappearance. If the witness is located with reasonable efforts, then the trial lawyer’s failure to find the witness is more likely to support an IAC claim.

    Philadelphia Criminal Appeals Lawyer – FREE Consultations

    Free consultations with our Philadelphia criminal lawyers. Call (215) 564-0644.

    Disclaimer: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. Our lawyers provide legal advice only after accepting a case. It is imperative that any action taken is done on advice of counsel. Read full disclaimer below.


    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"

    MURDER, Att. Murder CHARGES – Negotiated Significantly Lower prison sentence (Feb. 2022, PHILA)

    Mr. Anderson faced murder and attempted murder charges after an incident in Northeast Philadelphia involving the shooting death of Anderson’s sister’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s roommate who was shot 5 times and survived. The decedent had previously beaten the...


    The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Shelton shot and seriously injured a male in a bar in North Philadelphia called Circles. There was video of the shooting which happened outside the bar. However, Mr. Nenner presented witnesses who testified that the person in the bar...


    Mr. Nenner's client was charged with multiple crimes (murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.) after a shooting death occurred at a gambling house in North Philadelphia. At trial, Mr. Nenner successfully presented a self-defense argument and convinced...


    Mr. Nenner’s client was charged with murder and gun charges in Philadelphia. The client was accused of shooting and killing another male on Arch Street near the 5600 block of Ithan Street in Philadelphia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating...

    Drug Possession Case – Motion to Suppress Granted

    Mr. Nenner presented evidence that to show that the traffic stop was a pretextual stop. The officer had no reason to pull the car over. The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence. As a result, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – Possession of a Controlled Substance

    In most criminal drug cases in Philadelphia, there are two common charges or offenses: Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver. In addition to these drug charges, there are other drug related charges, such...

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – What is “Possession”

    Page last reviewed and updated: October 20, 2019 One of the most common types of criminal state (PA) cases in Philadelphia is possession of drugs. Possession of a Controlled Substance (PCS) and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver (PWID) often...

    Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder (AKA: Felony Murder) Law

    Philadelphia criminal lawyer David S. Nenner discusses the current status of second degree murder law in Pennsylvania. This is also known as the felony murder rule. Get info about PA court decisions and the agency theory. Not every case of death during the commission of a felony will result in a second degree murder conviction in PA.

    Philadelphia Murder Cases – Police Investigation Tactics

    Questioning Police Officer Tactics in Philadelphia Murder Cases Within the last 10 years, there have been several murder Philadelphia criminal cases in which the accused individuals were acquitted of the crimes. In these cases, the individuals spent months, if not...

    Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania

    An explanation of Pennsylvania murder laws including Section 2502. What is murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree and murder in the third degree. Get a summary of the definitions under Pennsylvania criminal law.