When defendants are convicted of crimes, such as murder, attempted murder or gun and drugs related charges in Philadelphia, they have the right to appeal their convictions. There are different types of appeals, such as direct appeals and Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petitions.
A defendant must file a direct appeal within 30 days of the date the sentencing order is entered, or 30 days from the date of the conviction. If a direct appeal is unsuccessful, a defendant may file a PCRA petition within 1 year from the date of the direct appeal’s decision. However, a PCRA petition may be filed without filing a direct appeal first. Therefore, if a defendant does not file a direct appeal, he must file the PCRA petition within 1 year from the date of judgement, i.e., 1 year from the date of sentencing.
Typically, when defendants’ direct appeals are denied, they will then file PCRA petitions. What if the defendants’ PCRA petitions are unsuccessful? Can they file another petition to appeal the decision? The answer is yes. Defendants may file subsequent PCRA petition(s); however, they may only do so if the issues raised in subsequent petitions meet certain legal requirements. This article will discuss when the courts allow defendants to file subsequent PCRA petitions.
In the 1980s the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to rule on several cases that dealt with subsequent or repetitive PCRA petitions. In Commonwealth v. Watlington, the PA Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of a second PCRA petition filed by the defendant that included claims not raised in the first PCRA petition.
Per Pennsylvania criminal law, defendants may file PCRA petitions if they establish that the allegation of error or issue has not been waived. A claim is waived if the defendant could have raised the issue at trial, on appeal or in a prior post conviction proceeding but failed to do so.
In Watlington, though the issues in the second PCRA petition were not raised in the first PCRA, the court went on to say that the claims in the second petition were not waived because the defendant alleged that the first post conviction counsel was ineffective for failing to raise claims. As such, the claim could not have been raised in the first petition. The court found that ineffectiveness of counsel was an extraordinary circumstance that excused the waiver.
However, the dissent in Watlington argued the court should adopt a standard to consider a second or subsequent petition only if the petition raised a due process claim that affected the outcome of the case.
It was not until Commonwealth v. Lawson, that the court provided a standard in permitting second or subsequent PCRA petitions. The court held that, “a second or any subsequent post-conviction request for relief will not be entertained unless a strong prima facie showing is offered to demonstrate that a miscarriage of justice might have occurred.”
The defendant must satisfy the Lawson standard before the court will consider whether other requirements for relief have been met under PCRA Section 9543. See Legal Analysis of Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act, Section 9543
When Should Subsequent PCRA Petitions Be Filed?
Under PA criminal law, subsequent PCRA petitions still need to be filed within one year of when the underlying judgement becomes final.
Section 9545 of the PCRA provides:
(b) Time for filing petition.–
(1) Any petition under this subchapter, including a second or subsequent petition, shall be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final, unless the petition alleges and the petitioner proves that:
(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States;
(ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or
(iii) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provided in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively.
(2) Any petition invoking an exception provided in paragraph (1) shall be filed within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented.
There are limited exceptions to the PCRA’s requirement that all petitions be filed within 1 year. Stay tuned for articles discussing this issue in the coming months.
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