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Can You Appeal Drug Possession Charges in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, drug possession can be a serious crime depending on the circumstances of your case. The charges you will face for possessing a drug like marijuana will be drastically different than possessing a drug like heroin. Regardless of the drug you possessed when you were arrested, a drug possession charge can negatively affect your life in many ways. If you or a family member was convicted of drug possession, you should consult with an experienced Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer. Criminal lawyer Lloyd Long can help guide you through Pennsylvania’s criminal appeals process. The drug possession defense attorneys for Drexel students at the Law Offices of Lloyd Long explain whether you can appeal drug possession charges in Pennsylvania.

When Can You Appeal a Drug Conviction in Pennsylvania?

Being convicted of drug possession or any serious crime is a frightening experience. Your case and all the intricate processes involved can sometimes be difficult to understand. However, it is important to know that a conviction does not mean that your case is over; you still have options that you can pursue, post-conviction.

Before you can file for a criminal appeal for your drug possession case, you must first be convicted of the crime. This means that if the charges levied against you were dismissed or you were acquitted, you do not need to file a criminal appeal. Whether it be a sentence for first-time drug possession in Pennsylvania or for a repeat offender, once you have been sentenced, you have two options: filing for a direct appeal or filing for a collateral appeal.

Direct Appeals for Drug Convictions

A direct appeal is made to Pennsylvania’s Superior Court. The Superior Court handles the majority of criminal appeals in Pennsylvania and is typically the first court to hear a defendant’s appeal. To appear before the Superior Court, you must file a notice of appeal with the Court of Common Pleas where you were convicted. The notice of appeal must be filed in a “timely manner,” which means you have 30 days from the date of sentencing to submit the notice of appeal. It is important to know that the time frames for these appeals may vary depending on what issue is being appealed.

The Superior Court can only review appeals for arguments that were posed to the Court of Common Pleas. This means that the Superior Court handles appeals based on mistakes of law in the lower court. They do not re-hear the facts or make new rulings on guilt/innocence.

Grounds for Appealing a Drug Case

One issue commonly addressed on direct appeal is evidence suppression. If, during your trial, you argued that evidence the prosecution introduced came from illegal search or seizure, this may be brought up on appeal if the trial court rejected your request for suppression. Appeals involving illegal search and seizures are litigated under the standards put forth in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and other rules decided through historic court cases.

Another issue that may be addressed on appeal is the suppression of a statement. If you made a statement to police that you believe should be inadmissible in court, you could object to its admission to preserve it for an appeal. This commonly deals with issues surrounding Miranda warnings and police coercion.

Prosecutorial misconduct is another ground for an appeal. A prosecutor must act within the professional rules of conduct that govern the actions of attorneys. If a prosecutor steps outside of these rules to obtain a conviction, this issue may be brought to the Superior Court on appeal.

However, if your defense lawyer for cases in Pennsylvania courts of appeal did not object to mistakes of law during your trial, those claims were not “preserved” for appeal. It is important to object to errors at trial, or else the Superior Court may not review them, and you may need to file additional appeals based on ineffective counsel to get your appeal granted.

Additionally, if you are concerned about appealing a drug crime after being charged as a college student, our drug possession lawyers for Drexel students can help you through this as well.

Collateral Appeals and Post-Conviction Relief

If your direct appeals were unsuccessful, you might have better luck with a collateral appeal. The Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) allows convicted individuals to challenge their conviction on several different grounds. Grounds for a collateral appeal under the PCRA include:

  • You discovered new evidence that was not available during your trial.
  • The attorney in charge of your case was not able to offer competent representation, and this harmed your case (also known as ineffective assistance of counsel).
  • Your constitutional rights were grossly violated, and this negatively affected your trial.
  • You were coerced to plead guilty to a crime you did not commit.
  • The government obstructed your right to a lawful appeal.
  • You received a criminal sentence that was above the legal limits in Pennsylvania.

This not an exhaustive list of grounds for an appeal using the PCRA. Additionally, if a PCRA appeal is not successful, you may be able to appeal to the U.S. government using a habeas corpus petition.

Work with Our Experienced Criminal Appeals Attorneys

If you or a family member was convicted of drug possession and want to appeal the decision, you should speak with an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. Attorney Lloyd Long has valuable experience dealing with Pennsylvania’s complicated criminal procedure, and he will utilize this experience to represent you. To schedule your free consultation, call us at (215) 302-0171 or reach us online.