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Within 30 days of being found guilty, the losing party at the magisterial district court can file an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. Once the proper appeal form has been filed, a summary appeal hearing is scheduled. At a summary appeal hearing, the Commonwealth must provide enough evidence that proves the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
APPEAL AFTER GUILTY PLEA
If you enter a guilty plea, ordinarily, you have no grounds to undo your conviction. But you might be able to appeal your sentence. The judge who accepts the plea will place you under oath and make sure that you’re entering the plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. In many jurisdictions, the defendant must sign a guilty plea colloquy form, which verifies the rights the defendant is waiving. The defendant needs to understand the charges, their penalties, and their rights before entering a guilty plea.
Once the judge accepts the guilty plea, the defendant’s appeal options are limited to: 1) the received sentence was illegal, 2) the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter, 3) the defendant had an ineffective attorney, or 4) the defendant didn’t enter his/her plea voluntarily.
A post-sentence motion must be filed in writing to the trial judge within 10 days of the sentence. The motion must state with specificity why the motion is being filed. Some common motions include: Motion for a New Trial, Motion for Modification of Sentence, or Motion for Judgement of Acquittal. If the trial judge hasn’t ruled on the motion within 120 days, the motion is seen as denied as a matter of law. Once the court denies motion, or it’s denied as a matter of law — the appellant then has 30 days to appeal to a higher court.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court hears most of the state’s direct appeals. An individual can file a direct appeal without a post-sentence motion. The Constitution of Pennsylvania guarantees a direct appeal to the Superior Court for criminal convictions. Within 30 days of sentencing, the notice of appeal must be filed in the trial court where the person was convicted. According to the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure 1925, a concise statement of errors complained of on an appeal must be filed by the appellant’s attorney. The judge will then prepare a “Rule 1925 Opinion,” stating their reason for the ruling.
Next, The appellant is ordered to file a brief and reproduced records. This must usually be completed within 40 days of the order from the Superior Court. Once the brief is filed, the “appellee,” or the winning party in the lower court, has 30 days to file a responsive brief. Within 14 days, the appellant can file a reply brief, allowing the appellant to answer the arguments that were included in the appellee’s brief. A reply brief could be important to your case, or it could not be necessary. An experienced criminal appeals attorney will know if you should file a reply brief.
Some cases are scheduled for oral argument. The appellant is the first to argue their case, followed by the appellee. If the attorney “reserved time for rebuttal,” the appellant is able to refute the appellee’s argument. The oral argument is the time for the appellant to explain why their position is correct. Afterward, the case is submitted to be considered by a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges, but they can take months to render a decision.
The losing party may request an en banc appeal, requesting that all of the judges of a court review the case—not just a small panel of those judges. The losing party must provide a motion, arguing that the panel’s decision was incorrect. This motion is only granted in a small number of cases.
The losing party could also request that the case is reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But this has to be done within 30 days of the Superior Court’s most recent decision. The losing party can file a request for the Supreme Court to look at the case.
Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”)
The Post-Conviction Relief Act is the only way to obtain collateral relief if a person convicted of a crime they didn’t commit or for someone serving an illegal sentence. Nonetheless, PCRA isn’t intended to raise issues that were waived in previous proceedings or to provide reprieve from the consequences of a conviction in a criminal case.
PCRA allows a person to file a petition one year after the date when the judgment became final. Certain exceptions do exist under the PCRA statue. It grants another year from the day the claim could’ve been presented. It takes a knowledgeable criminal appellate lawyer to calculate the proper deadlines for filing a petition for PCRA.
To be qualified for PCRA relief, the petitioner must show that:
Ineffective assistance of counsel is the most frequent cause of post-conviction relief. In order to show ineffectiveness, a person must prove 1) there is merit to the claim (that a mistake was made); 2) the lawyer’s error wasn’t a reasonable strategic decision; and 3) it’s likely that the proceeding’s result would have been different if the error hadn't occurred.
Most appeals are denied because they were filed too late or the issue was previously waived. If you wanted to discuss your appeal rights - the time is now!
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