If you or a loved one lost a criminal trial in Philadelphia, you want to know what your options are. Spending months or years in prison wreaks havoc on the lives of the defendant and their family members. Getting a new trial or a lower sentence can make all the difference.
This article provides a basic description of the three options for someone who has just been convicted following a trial in Philadelphia. Part 1 of this article discusses post-sentence motions and procedures. Part 2 of this article below discusses direct appeals and Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petitions.
In Philadelphia criminal cases, direct appeals are filed with the Superior Court and are governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. In a direct appeal after a criminal trial, one of the the most common grounds for appeal are trial errors, such as the trial judge’s rulings on evidence. Did the judge allow or deny evidence that was in violation of rules of evidence? Was there some irregularity at trial that prevented the defendant from getting a fair trial?
Example: At trial, the judge allows the prosecutor to comment on the defendant’s silence during the closing argument. The prosecutor says, “The defendant never told the police officers his side of the story.” This is a violation of the defendant’s 5th Amendment right to remain silent. The defense attorney files a post-sentence motion seeking a new trial based on the prosecutor’s statement. The trial judge denies the motion. On direct appeal, it’s very likely that the Superior Court would grant the motion and order a new trial.
As a general rule, direct appeals must be filed within 30 days of the entry of the sentencing order. See Rule 903 (Time for Appeal). If post-sentence motions were filed, the time for filing a direct appeal is stalled until the trial court rules on the post-sentence motions.
PCRA (Post-Conviction Relief)
PCRA cases are probably one of the most common types of criminal appellate cases, and also one of the most complex. Every case varies in terms of whether post-sentence motions or direct appeals are filed. By law, a PCRA petition can only address specific grounds (click here for a discussion of the grounds allowed in a PCRA petition). The most common one is ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). In PA, IAC claims may only be raised in a PCRA petition. They will not be entertained on direct appeal.
Other issues commonly raised in a PCRA petition include prosecutorial misconduct (which are rarely successful) and newly discovered evidence.
Generally, PCRA petitions must be filed within 1 year of the date of the final order (sentencing order or order denying a direct appeal). There are some limited exceptions to this 1 year deadline. However, in the vast majority of cases, the 1 year deadline applies.
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