One of the most common questions a criminal defendant in Pennsylvania has is “how long do I have to file a PCRA petition?” The answer varies and depends on the specific facts of the case and therefore, the following legal discussion is for information only. To see if your PCRA petition or appeal is time-barred, you must speak to a criminal appellate lawyer immediately. Call our office for a free consultation. (215) 564-0644
Legal Analysis – Time to File a PCRA Petition in Pennsylvania
Under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), a citizen of Pennsylvania who has been convicted of a crime in this state may attack their conviction or sentence. However, there is a strict 1 year deadline. Subsections (b)(1) and (b)(4) clearly indicate that the 1 year clock starts ticking after the judgment becomes final or at the conclusion of direct review (i.e., the order being appealed is entered by the court clerk).
Exceptions to the 1 Year Time Limitation
There are three limited exceptions to the 1 year time limitation:
- governmental interference,
- newly discovered evidence or facts, and
- a newly recognized constitutional right.
Government Inference (Brady Violations)
Claims of governmental interference are rarely upheld as reasonable grounds to grant relief in a PCRA petition. Claims of governmental interference usually involves allegations that the government (District Attorney) withheld information; these claims are commonly called Brady violations.
In order to prove a Brady violation, the defendant must establish that the prosecution suppressed exculpatory or impeachment evidence that was favorable to the defendant’s case, and that the omission of the evidence resulted in actual prejudice (i.e., would have made a difference in the outcome). In addition, there is no Brady violation if the parties (prosecution and defense) had equal access to the information, or if the defendant knew or could have uncovered such evidence with reasonable diligence. Withholding documents may qualify under this exception. However, the defendant and the defendant’s lawyer must not have, by exercise of due diligence, discovered them or otherwise known about them.
Newly Discovered Evidence
In order to succeed in getting over the time limits of the PCRA on the basis of newly discovered evidence, the defendant must be able to show the following:
- the evidence was not available at trial despite the exercise of due diligence,
- the evidence is exculpatory, and
- the outcome of the trial would have been different had the evidence been presented.
Newly Recognized Constitutional Right
Claims based on a newly recognized constitutional right are few and far between. As a general rule, state and federal courts do not make major changes to criminal constitutional law, let alone do courts make such changes retroactive (i.e., applies to cases that have already concluded).
60 Day Window
If a defendant whose PCRA petition is untimely has sufficient facts to support one of the exceptions discussed above, the petition must be filed within 60 days from the date the claim could have been presented (i.e., when the defendant learned of the facts supporting the exception). In addition, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made it clear that the 60 day rule requires the defendant to plead and prove that the evidence/facts could not have been obtained earlier.
Help Filing a PCRA Petition or Appeal in PA – Free Consultation
If you or a loved one needs help filing an appeal or PCRA petition in Pennsylvania, please contact our office for a free case assessment. Our criminal defense lawyers are experienced trial and appellate lawyers who will leave no stone unturned. (215) 564-0644
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