A defendant who files a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petition can seek relief on various grounds. One of those grounds involves a defendant’s guilty plea which is unlawfully induced, and the defendant is innocent of the charges.
Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act Section 9543(a)(2)(iii) provides:
(iii) A plea of guilty unlawfully induced where the circumstances make it likely that the inducement caused the petitioner to plead guilty and the petitioner is innocent.
In order for the court to grant relief, the defendant must show that the “plea was the result of manifest injustice.” See a 1997 Pennsylvania Superior Court decision in Commonwealth v. Holbrook. To meet this standard, the defendant must show that the plea was “involuntary or given without knowledge of the charge.”
Was the Guilty Plea Induced due to Ineffectiveness of Counsel?
A Pennsylvania court may grant relief sought in a defendant’s PCRA Petition if the defendant is able to establish that the guilty plea was induced as the result of his counsel’s ineffective assistance. There must be a “causal nexus” between counsel’s ineffectiveness and the involuntary or unknowing guilty plea.
Counsel can be ineffective in many ways, and one of the ways is if counsel failed to file a motion to suppress incriminating evidence. If the incriminating evidence was suppressed by defense counsel, the prosecution would not have met its burden of proof against the defendant. However, because the evidence was not suppressed, the defendant entered a guilty plea.
Consider the following: A defendant was coerced by the police into admitting a crime he alleges he did not commit, i.e., drug dealing (Possession with Intent to Deliver). His involuntary confession is the strongest piece of evidence the prosecution has against him. Without the admission, the prosecution cannot meet its burden of proof against the defendant at trial.
Defendant’s lawyer does not file a motion to suppression his involuntary statement and does not inform his client that he can file a motion to suppress. Rather, he advises his client to plead guilty without having any other reasonable basis other than the coerced, inadmissible confession. Taking his counsel’s advice, the defendant pleads guilty because of his involuntary confession.
In this situation, if the defendant’s coerced admission was suppressed, the prosecution would not have had enough evidence against the defendant for drug dealing. If the case went to trial and defendant’s admission was suppressed, the defendant would not have been convicted.
Therefore, in this hypothetical, the defendant would have a valid basis for his PCRA petition, i.e., the guilty plea occurred as a result of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Help Filing a PCRA Petition in Philadelphia, PA
If you have questions about filing a PCRA petition for a loved one after trial, David S. Nenner, a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia, can help. Mr. Nenner has been a criminal defense lawyer since 1985. It is important to have an experienced criminal trial lawyer who can identify issues for appeal to review your case. Call (215) 564-0644 for a FREE consultation.
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