For obvious reasons, no one wants to be convicted of committing a crime. Even in cases where the underlying offense is a low-level misdemeanor, penalties can still involve costly fines and months in jail — and for felonies like rape or homicide, incarceration can last for decades or even life. While being found guilty is devastating, you may be able to appeal the sentence, or even the conviction itself.

The criminal appeals process is highly complex. Defendants who intend to appeal their convictions or sentences, known as “appellants,” are strongly advised to seek legal representation from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Appellants are also advised to move quickly, as 210 Pa. Code Rule 903 sets a 30-day deadline for filing a notice of appeal.

Prior to filing, the appellant and his or her attorney for cases in Pennsylvania courts of appeals must identify the legal grounds upon which the appeal will proceed. You cannot appeal a conviction simply because you dislike the ruling or its consequences: there must be a legitimate legal reason supporting your position. Some of the more common scenarios which lead to criminal appeals include:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed… and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

In Pennsylvania, 234 Pa. Code Rule 600 provides for a “prompt trial.” Specific time constraints vary based on case factors such as the defendant being a juvenile or applying to participate in Pennsylvania’s ARD Program (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition).

Depending on the appellant’s unique legal circumstances, his or her appeal may involve the use of writs, briefs, motions, or petitions. How are these documents different, and for what purposes are they used?

A brief is a written document describing the mistake(s) which would justify either lightening the sentence, or reversing the conviction altogether. Each party in an appellant case submits a brief to the appellate court for review. In accordance with 210 Pa. Code Rule 2185, briefs must be filed within 40 days. If 40 days is not sufficient, your defense lawyer may file a motion for an extension of the deadline.

Motions and petitions are similar, but motions may be oral or written whereas petitions must always be in writing. Motions are used to seek a court ruling, while petitions are used to initiate proceedings.

A writ is an order issued from a higher court to a lower court. There are many different kinds of writs, the most well-known of which is called a Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Latin term habeus corpus translates to “you have the body.” Writs of Habeas Corpus are used in cases where the lawfulness of a prisoner’s incarceration is in dispute, ordering the appropriate government official to present the prisoner at a certain time and place. If the prisoner is not being lawfully held, the court may order his or her release.

If you feel your Constitutional rights have been violated, or if you have been charged with a crime in Philadelphia, criminal defense and police brutality attorney Lloyd Long may be able to help. To arrange for a free and private legal consultation, call our law offices right away at (215) 302-0171.

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