Post Conviction Relief in Pennsylvania

7 Reasons You May Qualify For Post Conviction Relief

Post conviction relief laws in Pennsylvania, provide multiple opportunities for someone to attempt to overturn their crime conviction. But post-conviction practice is replete with pitfalls and packed with nuance. If a defendant can prove his claim for post-conviction relief, the court could throw out his case, order a new trial, or issue an order to remedy the issue. Even if a jury has previously convicted or the defendant had entered a guilty plea. Get a second set of eyes to review your case for potential post-conviction litigation. You need a careful, experienced, and detail-driven attorney for your best chance at relief.

What Types Of Issues Will The Court Address in Post Conviction Practice?

In Pennsylvania Court, the Post Conviction Relief Act or PCRA governs most (but not all) post-conviction claims. To qualify for relief, a defendant must prove their conviction or sentence was the result of at least one of several potential errors. Those possible errors are:

(i) A violation of the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.

(ii) Ineffective assistance of counsel which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.

(iii) A plea of guilty unlawfully induced where the circumstances make it likely that the inducement caused the petitioner to plead guilty and the petitioner is innocent.

(iv) The improper obstruction by government officials of the petitioner’s right of appeal where a meritorious appealable issue existed and was properly preserved in the trial court.

(vi) The unavailability at the time of trial of exculpatory evidence that has subsequently become available and would have changed the outcome of the trial if it had been introduced.

(vii) The imposition of a sentence greater than the lawful maximum.

(viii) A proceeding in a tribunal without jurisdiction.

42 Pa. C.S. § 9543(a)(2). A defendant can, in very limited circumstances, raise other issues through common-law post-conviction procedures, but the PCRA was intended to encompass those procedures.

How Much Time Does A Defendant Have To Raise These Issues?

There is a one-year deadline to bring claims for post-conviction relief. When that year begins is a difficult issue. Once that year is up, the court generally loses the authority to hear any sort of PCRA claim. This is subject to three exceptions.

The year begins running from the time that the defendant’s direct appellate rights are either expired or exhausted. If a defendant does not file post-sentence motions or an appeal following his conviction, the year begins running when his appellate rights lapse, thirty days after sentencing. If a defendant litigates a direct appeal, it begins either when the U.S. Supreme Court denies Certiorari or when the time of litigating further appeals expires. Once the clock starts, there is no way to toll (or pause) it.

What If The Year Is Up?

If the year expires, the court has the authority to hear claims that fit an exception to the time-bar. Those exceptions are narrow. They are as follows:

(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States;

(ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or

(iii) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provided in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively.

42 Pa. C.S. § 9545(b)(1). A defendant invoking any of those exceptions must do so within one year of when he could have first presented his claim; that is to say, within one year of when he knew or should have known that his claim existed. 42 Pa. C.S. § 9545(b)(2).

How Does A Defendant Prove His PCRA Claim?

If the court agrees that there are potential PCRA claims that could resolve in the defendant’s favor, it will order a hearing. The defendant will then have the burden of calling witnesses and submitting evidence to prove his claim. The prosecutor will have the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. They will also inspect the evidence, and present their own evidence to contradict the defendant’s case. If the judge believes the defendant has proven his preponderance of the evidence, he will issue a remedying order.

What does this mean for you? Have you or someone else been convicted of a crime? If you believe your conviction or sentence was caused by one of the seven above-listed issues, call today! If so, consult with a lawyer with experience litigating post-conviction claims. Call 717.299.7342 to schedule a consultation with Dan Bardo.

Posted in News on by Pyfer Reese.