Criminal Appeals in Northampton County



Summary Appeal

Within 30 days of a guilty sentencing, the losing party in magisterial district court can make an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. Whether it’s a non-traffic or traffic issue—once the appeal form has been filed properly, a summary hearing is then scheduled. Here, the Commonwealth has to provide evidence proving the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Appeal After Guilty Plea

If you plead guilty, you usually don’t have grounds to undo your conviction. But your sentence might be able to be appealed. The judge who’s accepting the plea will put you under oath, making certain that you’re entering your plea knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. In many jurisdictions, the defendant is required to sign a guilty plea colloquy form, verifying the rights they’re waiving. The defendant must understand their rights, the charges, and their penalties before entering a guilty plea.

When the judge accepts a guilty plea, the defendant’s options for appeal become limited to the following: 1) the received sentence wasn't legal, 2) the court had no jurisdiction over the matter, 3) the defendant’s lawyer was ineffective, or 4) the defendant didn’t voluntarily enter his/her plea.

Post-Sentence Motion

A post-sentence motion must be filed to the trial judge in writing within 10 days of the sentencing. The motion has to state with specificity why it is being filed. A few common motions include: Motion for Judgement of Acquittal, Motion for a New Trial, and Motion for Modification of Sentence. After 120 days, if the trial judge has not yet ruled on the motion, the motion is viewed as denied as a matter of law. If a motion is denied as a matter of law, or the court denies it—the appellant is left with 30 days to make an appeal to a higher court of law. If you have any questions about the procedure after sentencing or your appeal, get in touch with an experienced criminal attorney.

Direct Appeal

Most of the state’s direct appeals go to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. An individual is able to file a direct appeal without having a post-sentence motion. For criminal convictions, the Constitution of Pennsylvania guarantees a direct appeal goes to the Superior Court. Within 30 days of receiving a sentence, the notice of appeal needs to be filed in the particular trial court where the defendant was convicted. As stated in the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure 1925, a concise statement of errors complained of on a appeal must be received by the judge that entered the order that gave rise to the notice of appeal. Next, this judge will prepare a “Rule 1925 Opinion,” stating the reason of the ruling.

In the meantime, the Superior Court sends out a docketing statement. This document must be completed and returned to the Superior Court by the party that originally filed the notice of appeal.

If the court’s Rule 1925 Opinion and the docketing statement are received by the Superior Court, the appellant is required to file a brief and reproduced records. In most cases, the filing must be completed within 40 days of the Superior Court’s order. After the brief has been filed, the “appellee,” or the winning party from the lower court, has up to 30 days to file a responsive brief. The appellant then has 14 days to file a reply brief, allowing him/her to answer the arguments from the appellee’s brief. A reply brief can be vital to your case, or it could be completely unnecessary. A dedicated criminal appeals law office will know if a reply brief should be filed.

A case may be scheduled for oral argument. The appellant is the first person to argue their side, followed by the appellee. If the lawyer “reserved time for rebuttal,” the appellant is then able to refute the argument from the appellee. The oral argument offers the appellant time to explain why their position is right. After this, the case is then submitted to be considered by a panel of three Superior Court judges, but it could take months for them to render a decision.

The losing party can request an en banc appeal, asking for all of the judges in a court to review the case—not just a panel of three of those judges. The losing party has to provide a motion, arguing the panel’s decision was wrong. This motion is not granted in many cases.

Superior Court is often a convicted defendant’s best opportunity to correct a mistake from the trial. Within 30 days of the Superior Court’s most recent decision, the losing party can also put in a request to have the case reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Although, most criminal cases can’t be considered by the Supreme Court.

Dutko Law can help you with your criminal appeals in Northampton 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 appeal in 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”)

If a person is convicted of a crime they did not commit or for someone serving a sentence that’s illegal, the Post-Conviction Relief Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et al., is the only way to obtain collateral relief. See 42 Pa.C.S. § 9542. Even so, the intent of PCRA is not to raise issues that were already waived in previous proceedings or to offer reprieve from the consequences of conviction in a criminal case.

PCRA allows one to file a petition a year after the date on which the judgment was finalized. There are certain exceptions under the PCRA statue. It grants an added year after the day that the claim could’ve been presented. A knowledgeable criminal appellate lawyer is needed to calculate the appropriate deadlines for submitting a petition for PCRA.

To qualify for PCRA relief, the petitioner needs 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.

Ineffective assistance of counsel is frequently the cause of post-conviction relief. To demonstrate ineffectiveness, a person has to prove 1) there is merit for the claim (that there was a mistake made); 2) the error from the attorney wasn’t a reasonable strategic decision; and 3) the proceeding’s results probably would have been different if the error had never occurred.

Many PCRA petitions are denied due to being filed too late. A petition that’s filed outside of the statutory requirements leads to a loss of rights. PCRA practice is a challenge, and there isn’t much room for error. This highly specialized aspect of criminal law shouldn’t be left to a lawyer with little-to-no experience. Contact Dutko Law, and we’ll start working on your appeal today.

Contact Dutko Law, and we’ll start working on your criminal appeals in Northampton County today.