Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer Lloyd Long discusses details surrounding the Pennsylvania’s Superior Court’s decision in the Descardes case.

If it looks and smells like a PCRA, it is a PCRA.

This was a discretionary Commonwealth appeal of an en banc Superior Court opinion denying relief. Descardes pled guilty to insurance fraud. After serving his sentence, he returned home to Haiti in 2009; when he attempted to reenter the US, he was stopped as a result of the conviction.

He filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, claiming that his counsel’s failure to advise of deportation consequences was ineffective, and seeking to withdraw his plea. The trial court treated it as a PCRA petition and dismissed it as untimely. The trial court also found that at the time of the plea, precedent held that failure to inform a client of collateral consequences of a conviction was not ineffective assistance.

The Superior Court affirmed, but held that the trial court should have treated the filing as a coram nobis petition.

Even though Descardes did not prevail, the Supreme Court granted the Commonwealth’s application for allowance of appeal and reversed the Superior Court. After reviewing the recent history of post-conviction proceedings in Pennsylvania, the Court noted that the PCRA has been interpreted to be the sole method of obtaining collateral relief in Pennsylvania. As such, if a claim is cognizable under the PCRA, it must be reviewed under the PCRA, even if the petitioner is ineligible for relief under the timeliness or “currently serving a sentence” provisions.

Here, Descardes’ claim sounded in ineffective assistance, one that is expressly recognized under the PCRA. That he could not bring a timely claim under the PCRA did not change that such claims must be brought under the PCRA.