Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Attorney
The criminal case did not end as hoped. You or your loved one now stands convicted, and you don’t know where to turn. The research you’ve done so far has revealed a frightening truth: the substantial majority of criminal appeals in Pennsylvania and the federal system do not end in reversal or some other favorable outcome. The best way to increase your odds is to hire an experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer.
Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorney Lloyd Long has handled hundreds of criminal appeals and post-conviction matters. Because each case is different, it is not always easy to predict the path that any particular case will take on appeal. Individuals interested in challenging a conviction should always retain an experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer to guide you through the appellate process and advocate on your behalf. Contact attorney Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free consultation about your case.
Do You Need a Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Lawyer to Challenge Your Conviction?
If you were convicted of a crime, do not wait to contact a Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer. Hiring an experienced attorney who knows the ins and outs of the legal process of appeals can ease the process.
Types of Cases We Appeal
If you were convicted of murder, robbery, or sexual assault in the area, our Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorney will be ready. Regardless of the crime for which you were convicted or where it occurred – Allentown, State College, Erie, or anywhere else in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Lloyd Long is the experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer for you. Our lawyers stand ready to represent you in your direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, a discretionary appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or in seeking post-conviction relief under the PCRA.
Lloyd Long also represents people convicted of federal crimes on appeal and can represent you on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and in federal habeas corpus proceedings for federal and state prisoners.
Timing Is Imperative
There are deadlines in appellate and post-conviction practice that the law refers to as “jurisdictional in nature.” This means that if you miss a filing deadline, your ability to appeal or file for post-conviction relief may be forever lost.
After conviction, a judge will set a sentencing date. It is best to contact me prior to sentencing, if possible. This will give us time to discuss your case and create a plan of action for your appeal.
A Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorney will be able to get involved in your appeal at a number of stages, so if you are finding this page after sentencing, you should still contact one. If your appeal is pending, an attorney still might be able to get involved; otherwise, they may be able to let you know about further actions you might take to attack your conviction.
If you lose your direct appeal, you have a limited time in which to file for post-conviction relief under the PCRA or federal habeas statute. These deadlines are the most unforgiving. For that reason, getting me involved early is incredibly important.
The Criminal Appeals Process in Pennsylvania
After an arrest, people accused of crimes are forced to navigate a confusing criminal justice system at the trial level. If convicted, a new process begins that does not resemble what happened in the trial court at all. An accomplished Pennsylvania appellate lawyer is in the best position to guide you or a loved one through what can be a complicated process.
When You Can Appeal
In virtually all cases, an appeal cannot be taken until a defendant is sentenced. After sentencing, a notice of appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court must be filed within 30 days of sentencing. It is not, however, appropriate to file a notice of appeal immediately after sentencing in every case. In certain cases, a post-sentence motion should be filed first. In order to make certain arguments on appeal – such as a challenge to the sentence imposed – the claim must first be presented to the trial court. This is often best accomplished with a post-sentence motion.
Such a motion must be filed within 10 days of being sentenced, after which the trial court has up to 120 days to make a decision on the motion. The motion is automatically denied if no decision is made by then. Following denial of a post-sentence motion, a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days.
Notice of the Appeal and Brief Deadlines
The notice of appeal is filed in the trial court in which an individual was convicted. After that is filed, the trial court will often order the defendant’s attorney to file a document informing it of the issues that will be raised on appeal, generally within 21 days. This is called a “Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal,” and is required by Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925.
It then becomes the trial court’s responsibility to write an opinion addressing the reasons it ruled the way it did on the issues. This is known as a “Rule 1925 Opinion.”
Once the Superior Court of Pennsylvania is notified of the appeal, it will send a docketing statement to the Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorney or party who filed the notice of appeal. That document – which asks for general information about the case being appealed – must be completed and returned to the Superior Court.
After the trial court writes its opinion, the record is transmitted to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. It will order that the appellant file is brief and reproduced record within approximately 40 days of the order. This deadline can usually be extended if a motion requesting more time is filed.
The brief in an appeal is the party’s written arguments about why it is entitled to relief, whether that is a new trial, a new sentencing, or a complete release from custody. It is obviously the most important aspect of an appeal. Knowing how to write a persuasive brief is a skill that is learned over the course of time. Unfortunately, the quality of many lawyers’ written arguments is dreadful and they make little to no efforts to improve. Persuasive written arguments do not magically appear on the computer from a lawyer’s train of thought. A good brief requires multiple drafts and considered thought.
The reproduced record is a collection of the materials necessary for the appellate court to decide the case. Depending on what happened in the trial court and what issues are raised on appeal, what is required to be included in the reproduced record can vary significantly. But the penalty for not including important materials can be severe: Pennsylvania’s appellate courts often deny review of claims if the necessary documents are not in the record. With such important consequences, this is a task for an experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer.
After the appellant’s brief is filed, the party that won in the lower court – known as the appellee, and usually the prosecution in criminal cases – has 30 days to file its brief. That deadline can also be extended by filing a motion. In that brief, the appellee argues why the lower court’s decision was correct.
The appellant is permitted to file a reply brief 14 days after service of the appellee’s brief. That purpose of that brief is to respond to arguments in the appellee’s briefs. Reply briefs are not always appropriate.
Oral argument takes place in some, but not all, cases. The appellant argues his case first. During argument, the lawyer starts to state why their position is correct but is usually interrupted with questions from the judges. The judges are testing the lawyer’s knowledge of the facts and the law, and looking for holes in his arguments. The appellee is second to argue. If the appellant “reserved time for rebuttal,” he is permitted to argue once again for a brief time.
The case is then submitted for consideration by a three-judge panel of the Superior Court. A decision can be a few days or many months away. There is no way to guess when the Superior Court will decide a particular case. The judges vote on the outcome, and the majority wins. One of the judges in the majority will write the decision, which is called the “Opinion of the Court.” This is the official decision.
The remaining two judges will either join in that opinion or write “concurring” or “dissenting” opinions. A “concurring opinion” is one that agrees with the outcome of the case, but the judge wishes to say something additional about the matter. A judge who writes a “dissenting opinion” disagrees with the outcome.
The party who loses an appeal in the Superior Court is permitted to request that a larger group of that Court’s judges review the case. This request must be made in a motion arguing why the panel’s decision was wrong. This is granted in rare cases and is called an en banc appeal. The procedure with the briefing process described above begins again.
The losing party is also able to ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the case. Such a request must be filed within thirty days of the Superior Court’s most recent decision. As detailed elsewhere on this website, there is no right to review in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for the vast majority of cases. Instead, a petition asking the Court to hear your case must be filed. If the Court agrees to accept the case for review, the party seeking appeal files its brief first. The winning party from the Superior Court then files a responsive brief, after which the party seeking appeal may, in certain cases, file a reply brief.
Oral argument occurs in virtually all appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Argument in that Court is different than in the Superior Court. Because the Supreme Court Justices hear fewer cases, they have more time to prepare for each case, and the questions they ask are more difficult to answer.
Following argument, the Court issues an opinion. Like the Superior Court, the majority vote of the Justices carries the day, and there are often concurring and dissenting opinions.
The Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)
If a criminal appeal is decided against you, it is important to know about the the Post-Conviction Relief Act. So, what is Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)? The deadline to file a PCRA petition is one year from the date on which the appellate process ends. Exceptions exist under the PCRA for late filings, but those too must be filed within 60 days. Calculating deadlines under either circumstance can be complicated and any particular case requires attention to detail.
While this provides a brief description of the criminal appellate process in Pennsylvania, it is important to remember that each case is different and certain exceptions might apply. None of the above is legal advice for your particular case. It is a brief description of the general path of a criminal appeal.
Because each case is different, contacting a skilled Pennsylvania criminal appeals attorney is the best course of action to protect your rights. To schedule a consultation with an experienced appellate attorney in Pennsylvania, call (215) 731-9500 or contact us online.
Criminal Appeals to the Pennsylvania Superior Court
The Pennsylvania Superior Court is the appellate court in which the huge majority of criminal appeals in Pennsylvania are heard. With the exception of cases where the death penalty is imposed, this is the court where a first appeal is heard after a conviction in Pennsylvania’s state courts.
The appellate judges on the Pennsylvania Superior Court have an enormous caseload. In recent years, approximately 8,000 appeals have been filed to the Superior Court annually. For a court that has less than twenty judges, this is an extraordinary number of cases.
The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees a direct appeal to the Superior Court for any criminal conviction. In order to have your case heard, a notice of appeal must be filed in the Court of Common Pleas in which the conviction occurred. That notice of appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court must be filed in a timely manner, which is generally within 30 days of sentencing or the denial of a post-sentence motion.
These time frames change depending on the type of order being appealed. There are specific rules dealing with appealing violations of probation and the denial of petitions under the Post Conviction Relief Act, or “PCRA,” as well as other orders. Because of the complexity of the appellate process in Pennsylvania, it is important to retain a Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer who is knowledgeable and familiar with the appropriate deadlines. A mistake in calculating deadlines might result in the loss of your appellate rights.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court is only permitted to review arguments on appeal that were presented to the lower court. If your trial attorney did not object to evidence that should not have been admitted, there is no claim for the Superior Court to review. This is known as “waiver” of a claim.
Another form of waiver occurs when an attorney does not make adequate argument on a claim in a brief. Unfortunately, this happens far too often, especially when an inexperienced appellate lawyer handles a case after trial. The Superior Court judges are far too busy to try to figure out what an undeveloped claim is trying to say, and they will not do your attorney’s job. This pitfall is best avoided by hiring an experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court is frequently a convicted defendant’s best opportunity to correct an error that occurred at trial. The judges take their jobs seriously and genuinely want to make the right decision in each case. But they carry an enormous caseload and cannot make the right decision on cases where a lawyer does not present a claim properly.
To maximize your chances of success on appeal, hire an experienced criminal appeals attorney in Pennsylvania. An appellate lawyer who has written hundreds of briefs knows that the greatest likelihood of winning on appeal comes from a well-written brief that presents the strongest claims in a clear and fully developed fashion. If you have any questions about appealing a criminal case to the Pennsylvania Superior Court or the criminal appeals process in general, contact us today to request a consultation.
Appealing a Criminal Case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest court in the Commonwealth. It is also the oldest appellate court in the United States. If a criminal appeal is not successful in the Superior Court, most people’s natural reaction is to ask their lawyer to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In all but a few situations, there is no automatic right to appeal a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. You must first file a request, known as a Petition for Allowance of Appeal, that explains why your case is important enough to justify review in the Supreme Court.
On average, approximately 2,000 requests for appeal are filed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court each year. The Court grants review in 2-3% of these cases. This amount, which is already very low, has been decreasing over the past few years.
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court grants review only for what it considers to be important reasons. Some of those include:
- disagreement among different panels of the Superior Court on the same issue;
- a decision by the Superior Court that disagrees with a prior decision by the United States or Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
- an issue that has not been previously decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
- an issue of substantial public importance;
- an issue concerning whether a statute is constitutional; and
- a decision by the Superior Court that is extremely and plainly wrong.
Some of these reasons appear to be similar at first glance. While some are related, there are subtle differences that important. Knowing how to present these differences might result in a request for appeal being granted and denied.
When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees to hear a case, the likelihood of reversing the Superior Court’s decision is substantially higher than in a typical appeal. In recent history, the Supreme Court has reversed close to the same number of cases that it has affirmed.
Unlike the Superior Court, virtually every case that the Supreme Court agrees to hear involves oral argument. This is not the place for an inexperienced lawyer. The Justices are well prepared for each case. They know the weakness of each case and will often ask questions in rapid succession of the lawyer making argument to expose weaknesses in their position.
Contact Our Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Attorney About Your Conviction Today
Most criminal attorneys claim that they handle appeals. But the appellate process in Pennsylvania and the federal system is highly complex. Picking a lawyer who only occasionally represents clients on appeal might leave you wondering why you did not select one possessing substantial familiarity with the criminal appeals system. That knowledge and expertise is only gained through experience.
As with any criminal appeal in Pennsylvania, an experienced and knowledgeable Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer will increase your chances of success. When you hire Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer Lloyd Long for your criminal appeal or post-conviction proceeding in Pennsylvania, you get exactly that. He will not pass your case off to another lawyer and will provide you with the personalized attention that your case deserves because.
Call our law firm today at (215) 302-0171 to speak with attorney Lloyd Long in a free consultation.