For many, it is thought that once you have a trial and the jury comes back with a guilty verdict, that is the end of the road. However, a conviction is only the beginning of the post-conviction phase of a case. After a conviction, you have the right to a direct appeal. But what about after your direct appeal has failed? In certain circumstances, you can file a petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act – commonly referred to as a PCRA petition. The PCRA applies when there was a violation of the Pennsylvania or United States Constitution, ineffective assistance of counsel, an illegal sentence, newly-discovered evidence, a guilty plea unlawfully induced, or a proceeding in which the court did not have jurisdiction.
A couple of examples to help illustrate:
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Commonwealth v. Muniz recently held that the sex offender registration requirements violate the ex post facto clause of the Constitution. That means that our legislature cannot increase sentenced for crimes already committed. If your sentence was increased in violation of this rule, that is an example of a violation of the Constitution that would entitle you to file a PCRA petition.
Ineffective assistance of counsel most often comes into play when your attorney did not do something they should have done. Such as objecting to evidence coming into trial that should not have come in. Or not filing a pre-trial suppression motion to keep something out of trial, such as an illegal search of your person, car, or house. If your attorney should have done something and didn’t, you may be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel. There are however other requirements to proving ineffective assistance of counsel than just showing they did something incorrectly. An experienced attorney is necessary to establish all those requirements to put forth an effective PCRA claim for ineffective assistance of counsel.
An illegal sentence is not often raised in a PCRA petition, but it can be. For example, if you were convicted of simple assault, mutual fight or scuffle, you can only be sentenced to a maximum of one year. If the court was not paying attention, and they sentenced you to one to two years, you can file a PCRA petition claiming an illegal sentence, as the sentence was more than the legal maximum.
Newly-discovered evidence most often comes about when a witness recants or changes their testimony, or a new witness comes forward. You can file a PCRA petition based off of this new evidence. You must show you exercised due diligence in discovering this new evidence, though, so hire an experienced attorney to help you prove you did everything you could in locating this new evidence.
A guilty plea can be unlawfully induced in a couple of ways. Most often this claim is combined with ineffective assistance of counsel, because it is alleged that their attorney did not inform them of a defense that could be utilized at trial, or did not provide all information regarding the charges or witnesses.
A proceeding in a tribunal (court) without jurisdiction is rarely seen. Courts often do not act unless they have jurisdiction. For a court to have jurisdiction, the crime must have been committed in that county. Let’s say you were pulled over in Dauphin, but your speeding violation occurred in Cumberland. If you are charged in Dauphin, the court does not have jurisdiction. Cumberland County has jurisdiction if the crime was committed in Cumberland County.
PCRA Deadlines to Note
A PCRA petition is due one year after the conviction becomes final. What does this mean? If you filed a direct appeal, a PCRA petition is due approximately one year after the Superior Court issued its decision. Let’s say you filed an appeal and the Superior Court’s decision was issued on March 19, 2018. If you do not take any further steps, such as filing a petition for reargument or a petition for allowance of appeal, a PCRA petition is due March 18, 2019. If you did not file a direct appeal, a PCRA petition is due approximately one year and one month after you were sentenced. If you were sentenced on March 19, 2018, and you did not appeal, a PCRA petition is due April 18, 2019. There are multiple other hurdles that must be met for a PCRA petition to be heard in the courts. As an example, the claims cannot be previously litigated, or the claim could be waived for failing to raise it at a point it could have been raised.
Previously litigated claims are claims that were raised on appeal to the Superior Court and decided by the Superior Court on your direct appeal. Claims that are waived are claims that could have been raised to the Superior Court or the trial court, but were not. Ineffective assistance of counsel may excuse waiver in some cirucmstances.
The McShane Firm, LCC prides itself on knowing the ins and outs of the Post-Conviction Relief Act. Call (717) 657-3900 today to speak with an experienced attorney who can help get your PCRA petition started.