PA Criminal Appeals Law – The Basics of Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act Part 1

Many people who have been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania want to know if they should file a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition. It is important to note that PCRA petitions are entirely separate and distinct from direct appeals. In addition, both have strict time deadlines. Therefore, if you have been convicted of a crime in PA and would like to discuss your right to appeal or file a PCRA petition, you should contact a criminal appellate lawyer immediately.

The PCRA, which can be found at 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9541 et. seq., provides a way for people convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania to challenge their conviction or sentence. Success of a PCRA petition depends on the facts and legal issues of a given case. Since no two criminal cases are alike, the only way to determine whether a PCRA petition should be filed and whether it will be successful is to consult with a criminal appealslawyer who can make an assessment after reviewing the facts and the law.

Below is a discussion of two common questions related to filing a PCRA petition in PA:

  • Who can file a PCRA petition?
  • What is the time deadline to file a PCRA petition?


In a nutshell, PCRA petitions can be filed by anyone convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania and who, at the time relief is granted, is serving time in prison, is on probation/parole or has been sentenced to death. See Section 9543(a)(1) of the PCRA.

Related: David S. Nenner Criminal Case Review & Analysis: Acquittal in an Attempted Murder Case in Philadelphia


As a general rule, PCRA petitions must be filed within one year from the date the judgment becomes final (i.e., one year from the date of sentencing or one year from the date of final adjudication/decision of the direct appeal). There are some limited exceptions to this 1 year rule:

1. government interference with presenting the claim,
2. newly discovered evidence, or
3. a newly recognized constitutional right which applies retroactively.

Many people whose cases are outside the 1 year time limitation often want to know if some newly discovered fact or evidence is sufficient to allow them to file a PCRA petition. The answer depends on the nature of the evidence, when it was discovered, and why the evidence was not discovered earlier.

For example, a defendant is convicted in a Philadelphia shooting case which was largely based on eyewitness identification. A key witness for the defense, who would have provided a solid alibi defense, went missing before trial. He was unable to be located despite multiple, reasonable attempts by the defense attorney and investigators. Years later, after the 1 year time limitation expired, the witness reappeared; he had moved to Mexico. Under these facts, a PCRA petition based on the reappearance of this witness would likely be allowed, despite the fact that the 1 year limitation had expired. However, the petition must be filed within 60 days of learning that the witness reappeared.

Read Part 2 of this article which discusses common claims made in PCRA petitions.


Our legal team handles PCRA petitions and appeals throughout the greater Philadelphia area. When filing an appeal or a PCRA petition, it is important to have the case reviewed by a trial lawyer, someone with enough actual trial experience to be able to identify errors at trial and sentencing.

Our lawyers have over 40 years of combined trial experience.  Call (215) 515-0042 for a free consultation.

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. Since each case is unique, discussion of prior outcomes and settlements in past cases is no guarantee of a similar outcome in current or future cases. Contacting our lawyers via the email contact form on this website does not create an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through the contact form.

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