Philadelphia Criminal Appeals Attorney
After you have been convicted of a crime, you may be able to overturn your conviction using a criminal appeal. The criminal appeals process in Philadelphia can be highly complex and, at times, discouraging. However, you should not give up on any opportunities that can help turn your criminal case around.
If you or a family member was convicted of a crime, you should consult with an experienced Philadelphia criminal appeals attorney today. Lloyd Long is deeply familiar with the criminal appeals process in Philadelphia, and he is prepared to represent you. When you or a family member has been unexpectedly convicted of a crime or given an excessive or illegal sentence, the attorneys at our firm stand ready to assist you.
To schedule your free consultation with our criminal appeals lawyers at the Law Offices of Lloyd Long, call us at (215) 302-0171.
How to File a Criminal Appeal in Philadelphia
If you have been convicted of any crime in Philadelphia, you have a constitutional right to file an appeal for your case. The procedures at the appellate level differ greatly from those at the trial level. Therefore, you should ensure you have an experienced criminal appeals attorney in Philadelphia that is familiar with the city’s and the state’s appellate process and can competently handle your appeal.
It is important to understand that you must be convicted to file an appeal. If the charges against you were dismissed or you were acquitted of any criminal charges, there is no case to appeal a sentence.
Generally, there are two types of criminal appeals that a convicted individual can pursue after sentencing: a direct appeal or a collateral appeal.
Types of Claims that Can Be Appealed in Philadelphia
An appeal is not an opportunity to challenge a jury’s decision. You might think that the jury should have made a different verdict. You may very well be right. But the fastest way to lose virtually any appeal is to only argue that the jury came to the wrong verdict.
Who and what to believe are choices that are left to juries (or judges in waiver trials). If you are meeting with lawyers and they are telling you that you can challenge the believability of witnesses in your appeal, or that the jury reached the wrong verdict, you are likely meeting with the wrong lawyers.
An appeal is a challenge to specific legal decisions that were made in the lower court. It is almost always the responsibility of the defendant – or “appellant” – to establish that an error occurred in the lower court. A seasoned Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer can help make that process easier.
Claims of legal error when appealing a conviction might include the following:
- Suppression of Evidence
- Suppression of a Statement
- Incorrect Evidentiary Rulings
- Sufficiency of Evidence
- Excessive Sentence
- Claims of Prosecutorial Misconduct
The above are only examples of the types of claims that can be raised on appeal in Philadelphia. There is no way to make a complete list of such claims.
If a claim is successful on appeal, the type of relief available depends on the claim. If the successful claim on appeal is based on the sufficiency of the evidence, you are entitled to a reversal of that conviction – and it is possible that the government would not be allowed to retry you on the charge due to double jeopardy. If you establish that your sentence was excessive, you receive a new sentencing hearing. The majority of successful appellate claims – such as those challenging suppression claims and the admission of evidence – result in a new trial being granted.
Generally, an appellate court can only review a claim that was brought to the attention of the lower court. This is known as a “preserved” claim. Claims can be preserved in a variety of ways, including by filing a motion and making a timely objection. If a claim was not presented to the lower court, there is no decision to appeal.
Direct Appeals in Philadelphia
The state’s Superior Court is responsible for reviewing the majority of direct appeals. To have your Philadelphia criminal appeals case reviewed by the Superior Court, you must file a notice of appeal with the Court of Common Pleas where you were convicted. You should ensure that the notice of appeal is timely filed within 30 days of receiving your sentence or your right to appeal may be affected.
When a case is on appeal in Philadelphia, the appellate lawyer seeks to demonstrate that the trial court committed a legal error that entitles the defendant to the requested relief. A defendant can request to receive a new trial, resentencing, or a complete dismissal of the charges levied against them. As mentioned above, criminal appeals are different from trials because the judges do not go back through all issues brought up in the trial. For example, challenging the truth of witness testimony or facts the prosecution presented will not help you get your charges dismissed. Instead, you must assert that the lower court committed a “mistake of law” that had a serious impact on your case.
There are several claims of mistake of law or legal error that you can focus on for your appeal:
Suppression of Evidence: If you filed a motion to suppress a certain piece of evidence during your trial and your motion was denied, the Superior Court may overturn that ruling and grant you a new trial.
Suppression of a Statement: If you made a statement to law enforcement that you believe should not have been presented during your trial because it violated your Miranda rights or came after an illegal arrest, you may challenge the trial court’s ruling on appeal.
Excessive Sentence: If the sentence you received is grossly disproportionate to the crime that you allegedly committed, you can challenge the lower court’s ruling on appeal.
This is not an exhaustive list of claims that can be reviewed on appeal
It is also important to note that if your Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer did not object to a mistake of law during your trial, it would not be “preserved” for appeal and the Superior Court may not review the claim.
When you file a direct appeal, it goes to the Superior Court first. If you are still unhappy with the outcome, you may be able to escalate your claim to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court, if they are willing to hear your case.
Collateral Appeals in Philadelphia
If you exhaust all of your direct appeal options, you can still turn to a “collateral appeal.” Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) allows a defendant to challenge their conviction on constitutional and statutory grounds, even years after the conviction.
One of the most common claims used to challenge a conviction is “ineffective assistance of counsel.” An ineffective assistance of counsel claim alleges that your trial lawyer did not provide you with competent legal representation and that their ineffectiveness substantially impacted your trial. This claim can be difficult to prove because the state presumes that you received effective representation during your trial.
Other grounds for a PCRA appeal include the following:
- A violation of your constitutional rights calls into question the legitimacy of your trial.
- The discovery of new evidence that was not available during your trial calls into question the results of the trial.
- The government obstructed your right to a lawful appeal or your right to access certain evidence.
PCRA claims should be filed within one year of the date of you lost your appeal. If your petition is based on new evidence or information, you have 60 days from when you received that evidence to file your claim. PCRA deadlines should be strictly followed to avoid the possibility of losing your right to appeal.
Additionally, if your PCRA claim is unsuccessful, you may be able to file a criminal appeal in Philadelphia with the federal courts using a “habeas corpus” petition.
Do You Need a Philadelphia Criminal Appeals Lawyer to Challenge Your Conviction?
If you were convicted of a crime, do not wait to contact a Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer. Hiring an experienced attorney who knows the ins and outs of the legal process of appeals can ease the process. It is extremely strongly advised that you contact a Philadelphia attorney to represent you in court. While you technically can represent yourself, doing so dramatically increases the odds that your appeal will be unsuccessful. The saying “a lawyer who represents himself as a fool for a client” exists for a reason. Our lawyers know the intricacies of how courts operate and can view the situation from a more detached viewpoint than you could if you were representing yourself.
Types of Cases We Appeal
If you were convicted of murder, robbery, or sexual assault in the area, our Philadelphia criminal appeals attorney will be ready. Regardless of the crime for which you were convicted or where it occurred in the state, Lloyd Long is the experienced 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.
Circumstances That Warrant Filing an Appeal in Philadelphia
There are certain circumstances in criminal cases that frequently result in appeals in Philadelphia. These events are difficult to prevent and may happen despite the best efforts of the judge, lawyers, and any other parties involved. That being said, these things still constitute errors on the part of the court and are grounds for you to appeal your case. Our Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyers can help if you feel that any of these things happened to you over the course of your case. We will go over some of the common causes for cases to be appealed in Philadelphia below.
Jury Selection Bias
A frequent reason that court cases are appealed in Philadelphia is jury selection bias. This means that the jury was predisposed to be unfavorable towards you, and therefore you did not have a fair trial.
Courts have procedures in place that are designed to prevent juries from being biased. Jury selection is actually a fairly lengthy process that can take some time. Generally, nearly a hundred people will be called to jury duty, and that number will be narrowed down to twelve jurors and a handful of alternates. To whittle down the pool of jurors, they are given questionnaires that inquire as to any potential biases jurors may have. For example, jurors may be asked if they believe that a defendant’s race, religion, gender identity, or financial situation will influence their ability to make impartial decisions about the case.
Lawyers for both sides also have some say as to who gets put on a jury. Attorneys can cross off jurors they do not want on the jury and are required to disqualify any jurors they believe will not impartially judge the case. If the prosecution let a juror deliberate the case who was clearly not impartial, you can appeal your verdict.
Incorrect Evidence Decisions
You can also appeal your case if you believe that the court made an incorrect decision as to whether certain evidence was let into court. The general rule is that evidence is allowed so long as it has any tendency to prove something more or less likely to be true. This is a fairly broad scope of things that are allowed to be admitted as evidence. However, there are a number of restrictions on evidence as well.
If something is not relevant to a case, it cannot be admitted as evidence. For example, if you are on trial for robbing a bank, the prosecution cannot bring in the fact that you were pulled over for drunk driving the week before as evidence because it has nothing to do with whether you robbed a bank or not. If the prosecution was allowed to bring in evidence like this, it could prejudice the jury into thinking that someone who was arrested in the past has some sort of propensity to commit a crime in the future. The reality is that just because someone committed a crime does not mean that they committed this crime.
Evidence that was obtained illegally is also not allowed to be admitted into court. Under a doctrine called the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” prosecutors cannot use illegally obtained evidence or anything derived from it in court. For example, if a police officer illegally searched your house without a warrant and found drugs hidden in your closet, those drugs should not be admitted as evidence since they were obtained during an illegal search.
If you believe that evidence that should not have been admitted was used in your case, you should appeal the decision with our lawyers.
Unmet Burden of Proof
Sometimes, the prosecution does not prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, but the defendant is convicted anyway. This usually happens when a defense attorney correctly files a motion to dismiss, but the judge makes a mistake and pushes the case through to trial anyway. A motion to dismiss alleges that the prosecution cannot possibly prove, with the facts viewed in the light most favorable to their side, that you are guilty. This is generally because your situation does not meet a legal requirement to be considered whatever crime the prosecution is charging you with. If you believe that the prosecution did not meet their burden of proof, you should appeal your case.
A “Brady violation” is when the prosecution fails to provide you with evidence that they had in their control that would have helped prove your innocence. Under many circumstances, prosecutors can pick and choose what evidence they want to present at trial, but they cannot decide to hold back evidence from discovery. The prosecution cannot hold onto evidence that would hurt their case just because they want to win. Doing so is grounds for an appeal and is considered a constitutional violation. This “exculpatory” evidence can include information about a deal that a star witness made with the prosecution, evidence that someone else committed the crime, or even a confession from another individual to the crime you are accused of. As long as this information was in the police or prosecution’s control, they must turn it over to you even if it hurts their case.
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 Philadelphia 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 Philadelphia, PA
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 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 is notified of the appeal, it will send a docketing statement to the Philadelphia 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: the state’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 criminal appeals lawyer in Philadelphia.
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 state 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 PA 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 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 the state, 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 criminal appeals attorney in Philadelphia is the best course of action to protect your rights. To schedule a consultation with an experienced appellate attorney in Philadelphia, call (215) 302-0171 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 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 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 PA 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 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 Philadelphia, it is important to retain a 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 PA 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 Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer.
The 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 Philadelphia. 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 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 state 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 PA 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 PA Supreme Court;
- an issue that has not been previously decided by the state 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 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.
Appeal Expectations in Philadelphia
It is also important to go into the appeal process with tempered expectations. In many cases, the court did what they were supposed to, and the verdict was correct. Thus, you will not be able to appeal a case that was judged properly.
Additionally, the error you allege in your appeal must be “reversible.’ That means that a higher court can change it. For example, facts determined by the jury are not reversible because higher courts generally defer to whatever the jury decides as to the facts. Error that is reversible is usually a misinterpretation of the law by the judge or one of the lawyers involved in the case.
Our Philadelphia Criminal Appeals Lawyers Are Ready to Represent You
The choice of which claims to raise on appeal is best left to an experienced Philadelphia criminal appeals lawyer like Lloyd Long. Clients (and inexperienced lawyers) want to raise every imaginable issue, but that is often a bad idea. It gives appellate judges the impression that you are throwing everything at the wall and hoping that something sticks. You do not want overworked judges thinking like that. It is far better practice to only raise claims that present a real likelihood of success. If you are wondering whether or not your claim can be raised on appeal, contact us today to request a consultation.
Go Over Your Situation with Our Philadelphia Criminal Appeals Lawyers Today
If you or a family member needs to appeal a conviction, you should speak with an experienced Philadelphia criminal lawyer today. The Law Offices of Lloyd Long are prepared to guide you through Philadelphia’s complex criminal appeals process. To schedule a free consultation, call us at (215) 302-0171.