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.