Pennsylvania PCRA Law – Timeliness
When an individual is considering their criminal appellate rights, especially for a Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition, the first issue that must be considered is timeliness, i.e., is the PCRA petition or appeal beyond the time limits allowed under Pennsylvania criminal law? In fact, the first question most defendants have is whether it is too late to file a PCRA petition in Pennsylvania. The answer depends on the facts and circumstances specific to each case.
A PCRA petition is required to be filed within the 1 year time limit under 42 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Section 9545 (the Post Conviction Relief Act). Basically, a PCRA petition must be filed within 1 year of the date the underlying judgment becomes final. A judgment is deemed final “at the conclusion of direct review, including discretionary review in the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, or at the expiration of time for seeking review.” See Section 9545(b)(3).
There are some limited exceptions, such as governmental interference, newly discovered evidence and a newly recognized constitutional right. However, these exceptions are rather narrow, and rarely do the circumstances of a case meet one of the exceptions. Therefore, in most cases, including murder cases, the strict one year time deadline applies.
Example of the PCRA Timeliness Requirement in a Pennsylvania Murder Case
A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court reminds all criminal appeals lawyers of the importance of the 1 year time deadline for PCRA petitions. See Commonwealth v. Spann (May 26, 2015). There, the defendant was serving a life sentence for a conviction of 2nd degree murder in 1990. He filed a PCRA petition on October 18, 2012 which was dismissed as untimely by the PCRA court.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme court refused to reach the underlying merits of the petition, finding that the petition was not timely. Essentially, the court found that the 1 year time limit expired roughly 18 years prior to the filing of the PCRA petition. Because the petition was filed pro se (without counsel), the court analyzed the petitioner’s claims to see if any of the exceptions to the timeliness requirement were met. Ultimately, the court found that none of the exceptions to the 1 year time limit applied and dismissed the appeal.
Although the Spann case is non-precedential, it serves as a reminder of the importance of the timeliness requirement under Pennsylvania’s PCRA law.
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