Criminal Appeals in Lehigh County



Summary Appeal

The losing party at the magisterial district court is entitled to file an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days of being found guilty by the magisterial district court judge. Once the appeal is filed, a summary appeal hearing will be scheduled. At the summary appeal hearing, the Commonwealth must present evidence and prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Appeal After Guilty Plea

An individual’s appeal rights become limited after the person enters a guilty plea. The judge that accepts the plea will question the defendant to make sure that the person is entering the plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. In most jurisdictions, the defendant is required to complete and sign a guilty plea colloquy form. The colloquy form explains the rights that the defendant is waiving by entering a plea and seeks to establish that the defendant is doing so voluntarily.

After the guilty plea is accepted by the judge, the defendant’s appeal rights are limit to the following claims: 1) that the sentence received was illegal, 2) that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter, 3) that the defendant’s attorney was ineffective, or 4) that the defendant’s plea was not entered voluntarily.

Post-Sentence Motion

A post-sentence motion is filed with the trial court and must be filed within ten days of sentencing. Some common post-sentence motions are Motion for Reconsideration, Motion for a New Trial, or Motion for Judgement of Acquittal. The court has up to 120 days to decide the motion. If the court fails to decide the motion in 120 days, the motion is deemed to be denied as a matter of law. If the court denies the motion or it is denied as a matter of law, the appellant has 30 days therefrom to appeal to a higher court.

Direct Appeal

A direct appeal, in most instances, is an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. A person may file a direct appeal to the Superior Court, without having filed a post-sentence motion. In such a case, a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the sentencing date. The notice of appeal is filed in the trial court in which the individual was convicted. Typically, the trial court, pursuant to Pennsylvania Rules of Appellant Procedure 1925, will require the appellant’s attorney to file a “Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal.” The court will respond to the filing by entering a “Rule 1925 Opinion.”

Simultaneously, the Superior Court will send a docketing statement to the party that filed the notice of appeal. That document must be completed and returned to the Superior Court.

Once the Superior Court receives the docketing statement and the court’s Rule 1925 Opinion, it will order the appellant to file a brief and reproduce the record. Usually, this must be completed within 40 days of the Superior Court’s order.

After the appellant’s brief is filed, the party that won in the lower court, called the “appellee,” has 30 days to file its responsive brief.

The appellant is permitted to file a reply brief 14 days after service of the appellee’s brief. This is an important step and permits the appellant to answer the arguments within the appellee’s brief. However, a reply brief is not always necessary. An experienced criminal appeals lawyer will know whether to file a reply brief.

Some cases will be scheduled for oral argument. The appellant argues his case first, followed by the appellee. The appellant can refute the appellee’s argument if the attorney “reserved time for rebuttal.” The oral argument is the time to present the appellant’s position and explain why their position is correct. After argument, the case is submitted for consideration to a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges. The Superior Court can take months to render a decision.

The losing party can request an en banc appeal by filing a motion requesting that a larger group of Superior Court judges review the case. The losing party must file a motion arguing that the panel’s decision was incorrect. This motion is granted in a small number of cases.

The losing party may also request that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court review the case. This must be done within 30 days of the Superior Court’s most recent decision. In most criminal cases, a person does not have a right to review by the Supreme Court. A petition must be filed to request the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Dutko Law can help you with your criminal appeals in Lehigh County in the state of Pennsylvania. Be sure to contact us today!

Dutko Law, LLC is committed to exceptional criminal defense and appeals, and to providing personalized services to obtain the best possible result in every case. Charles Dutko has represented clients from arrest through criminal appeals in Lehigh County for the following types of cases:

Assault and Domestic Cases • Drug Crimes • Firearms & Weapons Charges
Theft and Fraud Cases • Sex Crimes • Arson
Property Crimes • DUI


Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”)

The Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et al., is the sole means of obtaining collateral relief for a person convicted of a crime they did not commit or for persons serving an illegal sentence. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542. However, PCRA is not intended to raise issues waived in prior proceedings or to provide relief from the consequences of a criminal conviction.

PCRA allows an individual to file a petition one year from the date in which the judgment became final. Certain exceptions exist under the PCRA statute, which grants an additional year from the date that the claim could have been presented. It takes an experienced criminal appellate attorney to calculate the deadlines for filing a PCRA petition.

To be eligible for PCRA relief, the petitioner must be able to show that:

  • The petitioner has been convicted of a criminal offense under Pennsylvania law, and is at the time relief is granted currently serving a sentence of imprisonment, probation or parole, or
  • awaiting execution of a death sentence, or
  • serving a sentence which would expire before the disputed sentence, or
  • has completed the sentence of imprisonment, probation or parole for the crime and is seeking relief based upon DNA evidence obtained by postconviction DNA testing.
  • That the conviction resulted from either
    • a constitutional violation which undermined the court process;
    • the ineffectiveness of counsel, which undermined the court process;
    • an induced guilty plea of a likely innocent person;
    • government obstruction;
    • newly discovered evidence, that if introduced would have changed the outcome of the trial;
    • an illegal sentence or lack of subject matter jurisdiction of the court.

The most frequent cause for post-conviction relief is ineffective assistance of counsel. To show ineffectiveness one must prove 1) the claim is of merit (that a mistake was made); 2) that the attorney’s error was not a reasonable strategic decision; and 3) that if the error did not occur, it is likely that the result of the proceeding would have been different.

Many PCRA petitions are denied because they are filed too late. A petition filed outside the statutory requirements will cause you to lose your rights. PCRA practice is difficult, and there is little room for error. PCRA is a highly specialized practice area of criminal law and should not be left to an inexperienced attorney. Call Dutko Law and let us start on your appeal today.