Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Philadelphia Criminal Post-Trial & Appellate Procedures – What to Know if You Lost at Trial (Part 1)

    Criminal Trials in Philadelphia

    Many Philadelphia residents who are facing criminal charges such as murder, attempted murder or serious drug distribution charges will roll the dice and take their cases to trial. This is fairly common because Philadelphia has a relatively low conviction rate, which is probably attributable to a varied jury pool and the sheer number of criminal cases.

    While the odds are generally good for someone facing criminal charges in Philadelphia, the reality is that winning a Philadelphia criminal trial depends on a lot of different factors. There is no winning formula. Who the trial judge is and how the jury is selected are two key factors. For instance, how a trial judge rules on a piece of evidence can literally make or break a case. A jury stacked with sympathetic women in a rape case can also make or break a case.

    Someone who has lost a criminal trial has a few options, but not a lot of time to decide what to do. This article will discuss the three options available to a Philadelphia resident who has just lost a criminal trial and been sentenced. Part 1 of this article will discuss post-sentence motions, and part 2 will discuss direct appeals and PCRA (Post-Conviction Relief Act) petitions.

    Post-Sentence Motions

    Under Pennsylvania criminal rules of procedure, a criminal defendant can file certain post-sentence motions. These motions are filed with the trial judge, basically asking for reconsideration.

    Rule 720 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure lays out post-sentence motions (how they are filed, grounds for these motions, timelines, etc.). Per Rule 720, a criminal defendant can raise pretty much any issue relevant to the case. However, this does not mean that post-sentence motions should be filed for any and all reasons. Instead, post-sentence motions should only be filed when there is a reasonable basis to do so, which will depend on the facts of the case.

    Generally, grounds for successful post-sentence motions include:

    • new evidence,
    • a legal issue like a recent PA Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court case, or
    • sentencing issues based on legal errors.

    It is important to note that Rule 720 post-sentence motions must be filed within strict timelines, which vary depending on the issue raised. Motions for new trials based on newly discovered evidence can be raised after discovery. Generally, most other motions must be filed within 10 days of the date of the sentencing order.

    More: Criminal Appeals in Pennsylvania & Proper Investigation

    Example 1 – Newly Discovered Evidence

    After an attempted murder trial in Philadelphia, the defendant is found guilty. A few days after the trial, an unknown individual contacts the defendant’s family and says that they witnessed the shooting, but failed to come forward out of fear. This witness states that the defendant did not commit the shooting and wasn’t even at the scene of the crime.

    Here, the defendant’s best course of action is to file a post-sentence motion for a new trial based on the new eyewitness. So long as it’s clear that the defense attorney could not have reasonably found the witness before trial, the trial judge would likely grant a new trial.

    Example 2 – New PA Supreme Court Case

    The day after a defendant is sentenced in a criminal case in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issues a game-changing opinion that applies retroactively (i.e., applies to cases that have already occurred). The best course of action would be to file a post-sentence motion, and the trial court would likely be forced to apply the new case.

    While this scenario might seem far-fetched, it can and does happen. Criminal law is always changing. In fact, over the last year, Pennsylvania drug cases have been turned upside down due to recent changes to constitutional law by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Click here for part 2 of this article which discusses direct appeals and PCRA petitions.

    FREE CONSULTATIONS with our Criminal Appellate Lawyers: (215) 564-0644

    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"

    Not guilty on 1st Degree MURDER CHARGE (dec. 2022, Pottsville, Pa)

    Mr. Nenner's client faced first degree murder, third degree murder and various other charges. The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Whitted stabbed and killed a driver after an incident at a red light in West Brunswick Township. Throughout the trial, Mr. Nenner argued...

    MURDER, Att. Murder CHARGES – Negotiated Significantly Lower prison sentence (Feb. 2022, PHILA)

    Mr. Anderson faced murder and attempted murder charges after an incident in Northeast Philadelphia involving the shooting death of Anderson’s sister’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s roommate who was shot 5 times and survived. The decedent had previously beaten the...


    The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Shelton shot and seriously injured a male in a bar in North Philadelphia called Circles. There was video of the shooting which happened outside the bar. However, Mr. Nenner presented witnesses who testified that the person in the bar...


    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 Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – Possession of a Controlled Substance

    In most criminal drug cases in Philadelphia, there are two common charges or offenses: Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver. In addition to these drug charges, there are other drug related charges, such...

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – What is “Possession”

    Page last reviewed and updated: October 20, 2019 One of the most common types of criminal state (PA) cases in Philadelphia is possession of drugs. Possession of a Controlled Substance (PCS) and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver (PWID) often...

    Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder (AKA: Felony Murder) Law

    Philadelphia criminal lawyer David S. Nenner discusses the current status of second degree murder law in Pennsylvania. This is also known as the felony murder rule. Get info about PA court decisions and the agency theory. Not every case of death during the commission of a felony will result in a second degree murder conviction in PA.

    Philadelphia Murder Cases – Police Investigation Tactics

    Questioning Police Officer Tactics in Philadelphia Murder Cases Within the last 10 years, there have been several murder Philadelphia criminal cases in which the accused individuals were acquitted of the crimes. In these cases, the individuals spent months, if not...

    Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania

    An explanation of Pennsylvania murder laws including Section 2502. What is murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree and murder in the third degree. Get a summary of the definitions under Pennsylvania criminal law.