Philadelphia Criminal Appeals Lawyer
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.
Call us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case: (215) 515-0042.
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.
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 (215) 515-0042.
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