Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Top Philadelphia & Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petition and Criminal Appeal Questions

    After defendants are convicted for crimes such as murder, gun charges and drug charges in Philadelphia criminal court and other courts in Pennsylvania, defendants may fight their convictions by filing criminal appeals and/or Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petitions.

    Criminal appeals and PCRA petitions are complex and must be filed within a timely matter.  Nenner Law Firm has compiled the following top questions defendants have about criminal appeals and PCRA petitions.  These questions and answers are for information only and are not a substitute for legal advice.  It is best to talk our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer, David Nenner, who is listed as a “Top Rated Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer in Philadelphia, PA.”  Mr. Nenner always offers FREE initial consultations. 215.564.0644

    Question: What are PCRA petitions?

    PCRA petitions are a type of appeal that is different from direct appeals.  However, a direct appeal and a PCRA petition are not mutually exclusive of one another.  A defendant may file a direct appeal and a subsequent PCRA petition if the direct appeal is not granted.

    A defendant may file a PCRA petition if he is convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania and is serving time in prison, is on probation/parole or has been sentenced to death.  See PCRA Petitions in Philadelphia Criminal Cases for a full discussion.

    Question: What is the time deadline to file a PCRA petition?

    PCRA petitions must be timely filed.  However, the deadline to file the petitions depends on the specific facts of the case.  In general, a defendant has 1 year from the day a judgment becomes final or the order being appealed is entered by the court clerk.  There are limited exceptions to this 1 year time limitation.  See full answer at Pennsylvania PCRA Law: What is the time deadline to file a PCRA petition?

    Question: Can you file a PCRA petition due to a lawyer’s inexperience?

    One of the grounds of appeal for PCRA petitions is ineffective assistance of counsel.  This occurs when a defense attorney’s performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness when representing a defendant.  However, just because a lawyer is inexperienced does not mean that the lawyer is ineffective.  There is a three-prong test a defendant must prove to show that their attorney was ineffective.  For further discussion and answer, see PA Post Conviction Relief Act Petition – How to Prove Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims.

    Question: What are the grounds of appeal in PCRA petitions?

    There are several grounds of appeal defendants may argue in their PCRA petitions, including but not limited to, ineffective assistance of counsel, newly discovered evidence, and Brady violations.  One of the most common grounds is ineffective assistance of counsel, which essentially argues that a criminal defense lawyer was incompetent and the lawyer’s actions had an adverse effect on trial, i.e., resulted in the defendant’s conviction.

    Another common ground of appeal is newly discovered evidence.  Essentially, the argument is that the newly discovered evidence was not available during trial, and if it was available, it would have changed the outcome of the criminal trial.

    For a detailed discussion of grounds of appeal, see PA Criminal Appeals and PCRA Lawyer Discusses Common Grounds of Appeal in PCRA Petitions.

    Question: How do you prove your Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer was ineffective?

    Criminal defense lawyers are presumed to be effective in their representation of their clients.  Therefore, defendants have the burden to prove that their lawyers were ineffective in their criminal trials.  There are various ways a PA criminal defense lawyer can be ineffective, and defendants have to meet the three-prong test when arguing how their lawyers were ineffective in any way.

    Defendants must prove: 1. the claim of ineffectiveness of counsel has arguable merit; 2. defense counsel’s act was not reasonably designed to advance the interest of the defendant; and 3. the defendant was prejudiced by the defense counsel’s actions, i.e., but for his counsel’s actions, the result of the trial would have been different. Click here to see a discussion of what each prong entails when proving ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC).

    Question: What is the difference between direct appeals and PCRA Petitions?

    A defendant may file a direct appeal within 30 days of being convicted of a crime, i.e., after being sentenced or the date the sentencing order is entered.  Therefore, time is of the essence.  There are different grounds of direct appeals in criminal cases, and a common one is that the lower court committed a reversible error.

    If a defendant does not file a direct appeal, he may file a PCRA petition.  It is important to note that direct appeals and PCRA petitions are independent of each other; a defendant can file one or both.  A defendant may file both a direct appeal and a PCRA petition.  Thus, if a defendant files a direct appeal and the appeal is unsuccessful, the defendant may file a PCRA petition thereafter.  See Philadelphia Criminal Defense Appeals – What Is the Difference Between Direct Appeals and PCRA Petitions in Pennsylvania?

    Click here to see all other Philadelphia, PA criminal appeals and PCRA articles.

    Last updated: October 24, 2016

    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. Read full disclaimer below.

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"


    Mr. Nenner's client was charged with multiple crimes (murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.) after a shooting death occurred at a gambling house in North Philadelphia. At trial, Mr. Nenner successfully presented a self-defense argument and convinced...


    Mr. Nenner’s client was charged with murder and gun charges in Philadelphia. The client was accused of shooting and killing another male on Arch Street near the 5600 block of Ithan Street in Philadelphia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating...

    Drug Possession Case – Motion to Suppress Granted

    Mr. Nenner presented evidence that to show that the traffic stop was a pretextual stop. The officer had no reason to pull the car over. The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence. As a result, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

    Attempted Murder Case – Not Guilty Jury Verdict

    Mr. Nenner presented a self-defense argument, and the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict after a 7 day trial in Philadelphia.

    3rd Degree Murder Case – Charges Dismissed for Co-Defendants

    Mr. Nenner represented co-defendants in a shooting death in North Philadelphia. Both cases were ultimately dismissed.

    Philadelphia Criminal Trials – Evidence Pointing to Another Perpetrator in Drug Possession or Drug Manufacture Cases

    In criminal trials in Philadelphia, one pretty common defense tactic is pointing the finger at another person at trial. This can raise enough doubt to result in a not guilty verdict by the judge or jury that the defendant was not the perpetrator of the crime. Here’s...

    Philadelphia Murder & Gun Possession Cases Increasing in 2021 – A Look at Common Charges & Defenses

    A look at PA criminal law for Murder (1st, 2nd, 3rd Degree), Aggravated Assault, Robbery, Possession of a Firearm, Carrying a Firearm Without a License, Carrying a Firearm in Philadelphia (misdemeanor).

    Pennsylvania Murder Charges, Deceased Person’s Statements Used to Prove Guilt

    Defense Trial Strategies – Excluding Statements That Accuse the Defendant Prosecutors often look to a deceased individual’s statements made prior to a murder to show that the defendant is guilty. These statements may point to a history of violence between the deceased...

    Pennsylvania (State) Drug Charges, Dog Sniffs & Constitutional Law

    Federal and Pennsylvania state courts treat narcotics dog searches differently. So different that the same scenario could result in different outcomes in federal versus state court. For example, a Philadelphia resident is pulled over for speeding. During the traffic...

    Dog Sniff Searches of Cars in Pennsylvania Traffic Stops (Federal Law)

    Dog or canine searches of cars during traffic stops in PA often lead to drug possession/dealing charges and gun charges. For example, a police officer pulls over a driver for speeding. During the traffic stop, a canine search is performed revealing several bags of...