If you were convicted at your criminal trial in Pennsylvania, you have not necessarily reached the end of your legal battle. We often think of the jury’s verdict as the final word on your criminal charges. However, not every verdict is correct or reached in a legally appropriate manner. There must be a set of procedures allowing courts to check verdicts and trials for errors. Nearly all criminal defendants have the right to appeal their cases to higher appellate courts if they are convicted.
Depending on what kind of appeal you want to file, you have a limited amount of time to do so. Direct appeals have a shorter time limit and encompass non-specific, general legal errors that you believe occurred during your trial. An appeal under the state’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) has a longer time limit of one year and covers more limited, specific types of errors. If successful, you may be awarded a new trial and a second chance to prove your innocence.
If you were unfortunately convicted at your criminal trial, you still have a chance to fight your charges. Courts will not abide by legal errors and may grant you a new trial to correct past mistakes. Our Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyers will help you file your appeal and fight for a new trial. To set up a free, private legal consultation, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.
What are Grounds for Criminal Appeals in Pennsylvania
A direct appeal must be filed no more than 30 days after you have been found guilty. Your appeal will not be a do-over for your trial. An appeal is a new hearing in front of a different court and the goal is to identify errors or mistakes that may have resulted in an unfair or unjust outcome of your case. The errors in question are errors of law and procedure rather than evidence and facts. Your guilt is not being debated in an appellate hearing.
On a direct appeal, you can appeal almost anything that happened at the trial level. This includes any objections by your attorney that were overruled, the admission of certain evidence, or the jury instructions provided by the judge, just to name a few. However, your appeal must allege some sort of legal mistake in order to be heard. For example, you could appeal on the grounds that a particular piece of evidence was unlawfully admitted because the police illegally seized it. You could appeal simply because the evidence severely weakened your case.
Contact our Bucks County criminal defense attorneys for help with your appeal.
Process for Filing a Direct Appeal in Pennsylvania
When filing a direct appeal, you have a 30-day window of time to submit your notice. This time usually begins to run on the day of your conviction or after the judge has ruled on any post-sentence motions. Your appeal must contain specific information for the appellate court, including the errors you believe plagued your initial trial.
Your appeal must contain the legal errors you believe occurred. The appellate court will not review your case for all possible errors. Instead, your review is limited to the errors contained in your appeal. If you want the court to review an error regarding jury instructions, but you forget to include it when you file your appeal, the court will not check for those errors even if they are present.
In some cases, the trial court that decided your case may require you to submit a 1925(b) statement. This statement, named for the section of rules that define it, requires appellants to include information regarding the matters they wish to complain about. This is only required if the judge who heard your initial criminal trial needs clarification on why you are appealing. If your appeal is confusing or vague, you may need to submit a 1925(b) statement. Failure to do so upon request may result in a waiver of all your appellate rights.
When the court hears your appeal, it may or may not involve in-person hearings. Depending on the nature of your appeal and the arguments you wish to make, you can request in-person hearings or allow the court to review your case on its own. Our Delaware County criminal defense attorneys will help you through every step of the appeals process.
Preserving Issues from Trial for Appeal in Pennsylvania
As you now know, an appealable issue is one containing a legal error or mistake. To get that issue into your appeal, you must have preserved it for appeal at trial. Preservation can occur in several different ways. First, trial issues can be preserved for appeal by simply objecting. We’ve all seen it on TV when a lawyer stands up in court and shouts, “I object!” In real life, objections are not quite so dramatic, but they are ways of bringing errors to the court’s attention. If the court overrules your objection – meaning they disagree with your objection – you may be able to appeal the issue after the trial. Just remember, objections must have some sort of basis and reasoning in the law. If you object, you must be prepared to explain why. Baseless objections will not be eligible for appeal.
Another way to preserve an issue for appeal is to file a motion. Motions can be filed before, during, and after trial, depending on the nature of the motion. Most motions occur pre-trial and often deal with what should and should not be admissible as evidence. By filing a motion to exclude a specific piece of evidence, the matter is preserved for appeal. Our Montgomery criminal appeals lawyers will help you determine what issues in your case can be appealed.
Common Reasons for Filing a Direct Appeal in Pennsylvania
The appeals process can be long and a bit complicated. One of the most important aspects is understanding what kind of issues you can appeal. Remember, an appeal must be based on alleged legal errors. You cannot file an appeal simply because you do not like the outcome of your trial.
Any objection you make at trial may become grounds for an appeal. Objections can occur for a number of reasons and, if your objection is overruled, the issue is preserved for appeal. Common reasons for objections include hearsay testimony and other statements that the jury should not have heard.
You can also appeal certain pieces of evidence you believe should not have been introduced by the prosecutor. Evidence must meet strict legal standards before it is allowed to be presented to a jury. If evidence is irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, or illegally obtained, it may not be shown to a jury. If you believe the evidence that does not meet these standards was mistakenly admitted in court, you can include the issue in your appeal.
Other issues frequently heard on appeal include problems with your own attorney, often referred to as ineffective assistance of counsel. If your lawyer failed to provide adequate representation, you might include the matter in your appeal under the PCRA. Our Philadelphia criminal appeals attorneys can analyze your case and identify issues ripe for appeal.
Waiving Your Appellate Rights in Pennsylvania
Not all convicted defendants had a trial. Many defendants opt for a plea agreement instead of having a trial. A plea agreement is when the defendant agrees to plead guilty and, in exchange, the prosecutor will drop or reduce charges or recommend a lesser sentence. While there are some benefits to taking a plea agreement, one significant drawback is that it severely limits your appellate options. There really is not much to appeal when there was never a trial.
Appellate rights may also be waived merely by waiting too long to file your appeal in the first place. Typically, a defendant has 30 days to file an appeal after they are sentenced. If you miss the 30-day time limit, you might be out of luck. You might have a little wiggle room if you only missed the deadline by a few days. A judge might show mercy allow your appeal to go through. However, if you miss the deadline by too much, you will have effectively waived your right to a direct appeal. Our Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyers will help you file your appeal on time.
Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act
If you have waived your appellate rights or have exhausted all your options on direct appeal, there may still be hope. Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) allows defendants to appeal more limited, indirect issues relating to their trials. The deadline for filing a petition under the PCRA is generally one year from the date of your sentence or the date of the final disposition of your direct appeal. You do not have to file a direct appeal to file a PCRA petition.
A petition for PCRA is different than filing for a direct appeal. Issues do not have to be preserved at trial to be heard in a hearing under the PCRA. Also, A PCRA petition does not go to a higher court but instead goes back to the same court that convicted you. Some issues may not even reveal themselves until after your trial is over. Matters that can be appealed under the PCRA include:
- A violation of your state or federal constitutional rights
- Ineffective assistance of counsel
- Unlawful inducement of a guilty plea
- Unlawful governmental obstruction of your right to appeal
- New evidence that was unavailable at the time of your trial
- An unlawful sentence
- The trial court lacked proper jurisdiction over your case
Each claim under a PCRA petition will have its own rules and nuances to consider. For example, to claim new evidence, the evidence must have been unavailable at the time of trial. You also must have made diligent efforts to obtain all evidence possible. Evidence that existed but you overlooked will not count. You should speak with our Philadelphia criminal appeals attorney about possibly filing a PCRA petition.
What Happens if You Win Your Appeal in Pennsylvania?
If you are successful on appeal, you may be granted a new trial. Your new trial will involve an entirely new jury who will hear your case for the very first time. At your new trial, the mistakes you complained of on appeal must be corrected. For example, suppose you claimed that a certain piece of evidence was seized illegally and should not have been admitted, and the appellate court agreed. In that case, the trial court must conduct the new trial without that particular piece of evidence.
In more unusual cases, the error could be so significant that the appellate court not only reverses the lower court’s decision but dismisses the case entirely. This tends to happen in cases where, after certain evidence has been excluded, whatever is left is not enough to warrant a trial. This is why it is important to include as many possible errors in your appeal as possible. The more evidence you can have excluded from a new trial, the better your odds are for a dismissal.
Your new trial is legal and does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, which prevents defendants from being prosecuted for the same offense twice. Our Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyers will fight for your appeal.
Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Attorneys for a Consultation
If you were convicted of a crime or plead guilty as part of a plea agreement, you might be able to appeal your case to a higher court. Reach out to our Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long. Call (215) 302-0171 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.