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    Philadelphia, PA Criminal Defense Lawyers Win Appeal for Client Who was Denied the Right to File an Amended PCRA Petition (April 14, 2015)

    Nenner Law PCRA counsel filed an appeal on behalf of his client, and on April 14, 2015, a judge from the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County granted the appeal from a PCRA Order entered on November 12, 2013.

    PCRA Petition Background & Timeline

    • On May 18, 2009, defendant was convicted of 25 criminal counts, including robbery and burglary. On June 12, 2009, the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of 336 to 888 months of prison time.
    • Defendant filed a direct appeal, and on December 14, 2010, the PA Superior Court reversed the sentence and remanded the matter for resentencing.
    • Then on Feb 23, 2011, defendant’s sentence was amended, and he received a sentence of an aggregate 315 to 846 months imprisonment.
    • Defendant then filed a second appeal, and the PA Superior Court affirmed the amended judgment of sentence.
    • On April 10, 2013, defendant filed a timely pro se PCRA petition, and counsel was appointed to represent him.
    • A PCRA evidentiary hearing was held on September 24, 2013. Thereafter, defendant filed a motion to request the court to dismiss his appointed counsel and allow him to proceed pro se and file an amended PCRA petition.
    • On November 8, 2013, the court allowed appointed counsel to be dismissed/withdrawn, but denied defendant’s request to file a pro se amended PCRA petition which raised an ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claim against appointed PCRA counsel.
    • On November 12, 2013, the court entered an order and accompanying opinion which denied defendant’s PCRA petition. Defendant filed a timely pro se notice of appeal.

    Crux of Defendant’s Appeal

    Defendant’s issue in the appeal is that the PCRA court erred by refusing to allow him to represent himself, which then prevented him from raising a Brady Violation claim. In addition, he alleged his appointed counsel was ineffective, and the court erred by not allowing defendant to file a pro se amended PCRA petition after the evidentiary hearing to include the IAC claim.

    Related: PA Post Conviction Relief Act Petition – How to Prove Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

    Court’s Finding

    The court ultimately ruled that if a defendant wants to waive his right to counsel, a proper Grazier hearing must be conducted. At a Grazier hearing, the court determines whether the defendant had validly waived his right to counsel during a PCRA hearing. In addition, the court must conduct an inquiry to ensure that the defendant is waiving his right knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently.

    The appellate court found that the inquiry made by the PCRA court did not meet the standards of a Grazier hearing. Further, the court erred by preventing defendant from filing an amended PCRA petition to assert an IAC claim.

    On April 14, 2015, the PCRA’s November Order was reversed. The case was remanded, and the PCRA court was instructed to conduct a proper Grazier hearing. In addition, the defendant was allowed to file his amended PCRA petition, either pro se or with private counsel.

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