Philadelphia Post-Conviction Sentencing Attorney
The criminal justice process does not end after the jury trial or bench trial renders a verdict. A convicted defendant may still argue certain aspects of their case and their sentencing. It is unfortunate, but sometimes a defendant’s situation is made worse by their attorney’s mistakes. Careless errors can lead to incorrect verdicts of guilt or overly harsh sentences. Fortunately, convicted defendants can hire new attorneys to advocate on their behalf in post-conviction cases.
Being convicted of a crime can be a life-changing experience, and not for the better. It is hard knowing you might have to serve out a lengthy prison term. It is even harder knowing that your lawyer’s ineptitude may have helped put you there. Our Philadelphia post-conviction and sentencing attorneys can help you appeal your verdict or unfair sentence. Contact The Law Offices of Lloyd Long by calling (215) 302-0171. Schedule a free legal consultation with an experienced lawyer.
How Sentencing Works in Philadelphia
After you are convicted of a crime, you must face the final sentencing phase of your trial. Sentencing is more complicated than merely listening to the judge explain a prison term. There are various issues to be considered to make sure the sentence is appropriate and lawful. One important thing that all judges must consider is the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines.
These guidelines are the same throughout the state and help to maintain continuity in sentencing. The guidelines are mostly based on the severity of the charges and the defendant’s criminal history. A conviction for a particular charge will be sentenced differently if the defendant has a long criminal history. A final sentence is calculated based on a prior record score and an offense gravity score. The higher either of these scores are, the higher your sentence may be.
It is important to remember that a judge may have different levels of discretion depending on your case’s circumstances. Sometimes a judge’s hands are tied by the guidelines. Other times, the judge might have a bit more discretion. Our Philadelphia post-conviction sentencing attorney can review your sentence for errors.
What is the Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)
A statement often heard by veteran Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers is, “I wish I had hired you sooner.” An inexperienced client may have hired a lawyer who is unprepared, does not file necessary motions, fails to properly cross-examine witnesses, and does not object to improper evidence. Errors like these can lead to an improper conviction.
After being convicted under these circumstances, defendants often ask what can be done. They may find new counsel and file a petition under the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. Our Philadelphia post-conviction sentencing lawyers can help you navigate the appeals process under the PCRA.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is a common PCRA claim in Philadelphia. To make this claim, a petitioner must show that their attorney’s failures undermined the trial court’s ability to determine the truth. Essentially, the argument is your lawyer was so bad that it was like you had no defense lawyer at all, and the trial needs to be redone with a fair defense. For example, if your defense counsel failed to object to a very obvious issue, like the introduction of unlawfully obtained evidence, thereby failing to preserve the issue for appeal, you might have grounds for a PCRA petition.
Unlawful Inducement to Plead Guilty
This may be claimed when you believe prosecutors used undue pressure or unfair tactics to pressure you into pleading guilty. You need to show your guilty plea was not entirely voluntary. Perhaps the prosecutor lied to you about which charges would be dropped or reduced in order to trick you into pleading guilty.
Unlawful Hindrance of the Defendant’s Right to Appeal by the Government
Direct appeals have a time limit for filing. When prosecutors intentionally create delays to prevent you from filing on time, this may be grounds for relief under the PCRA. A direct appeal has a 30-day deadline. If prosecutors purposefully cause you to miss this deadline, you can file a PCRA petition.
Sometimes new evidence comes to light after the trial is over. A judge may grant relief if there is new, important evidence that you could not access during your trial. For example, a witness you did not know existed might come forward with new information.
If a judge imposes a sentence beyond the sentencing guidelines for your charges, you may have grounds for relief under the PCRA. Judges cannot go outside sentencing guidelines without meeting proper proof requirements or valid reasons.
If the trial court did not have proper authority over your case, you might have grounds for relief under the PCRA. A claim for improper jurisdiction is not waived just because trial started. You may raise this claim at any time, even after trial is over. The law cannot abide a sentence from a court without authority over the case.
Eligibility for Relief Under the PCRA in Philadelphia
Post-conviction relief is not available to every defendant. To file a petition under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), a convicted defendant must show that they are eligible for relief. There are several grounds for post-conviction relief:
- A violation of the defendant’s rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution or the U.S. Constitution
- Ineffective assistance of counsel
- Unlawful inducement to plead guilty
- Government interference with the defendant’s right to appeal
- Newly discovered evidence
- An unlawful sentence beyond the legal maximum
- Improper jurisdiction for the trial
A defendant eligible for relief under the PCRA must be currently serving their sentence, awaiting execution of a death penalty sentence, or already finished serving their sentence. If you are not eligible for relief under the PCRA, that does not mean you are not eligible for a different appeal. To determine if you are eligible for post-conviction relief, and to discuss your appeal options, contact our Philadelphia post-conviction sentencing lawyers for help.
The Difference Between a Direct Appeal and an Appeal Under the PCRA in Philadelphia
A petition for relief under the PCRA is only one type of appeal. The other most common type of appeal is a direct appeal. The overall goals of these types of appeals are very similar: both seek to get a new trial for the defendant. However, the procedures and eligibility criteria for each type are quite different.
Direct appeals are probably so common because they are an appeal as of right. This means you have a right to file this appeal and do not have to eligibility before filing. Generally, you have 30 days from the date of sentencing to file your appeal. Remember, the date of your sentencing is not necessarily the date of your conviction. Most defendants are sentenced on a date after their conviction.
A direct appeal goes to the Superior Court. The appeal is a way of asking the Superior Court to review the trial court’s decision and check for errors. The errors they check for will depend on the claims you make in your direct appeal petition. If you preserve an issue for appeal at your trial, you may include it in your direct appeal.
Preserving an issue for appeal usually involves raising the matter at trial or in pre-trial proceedings. Issues are often preserved through motions and objections. Just by objecting at trial, you have preserved the issue for appeal. However, if you never brought up the matter you now want to appeal, you will be unable to do so.
A direct appeal could include almost anything that happens at your trial or in pre-trial hearings. Some examples include denied motions, objections on the sufficiency of the evidence, excessive sentences, and claims that the government did not meet its burden for a conviction.
You can even be out on bail while your direct appeal is pending. Depending on your sentence, the judge may allow you to request bail while you are waiting on your direct appeal. Bail is not guaranteed for every defendant and the judge could deny you bail. However, a judge might be more open to the idea of bail if you have a shorter sentence and less severe charges.
Petitions for PCRA
A petition for relief under the PCRA is considered an indirect appeal. Rather than taking the case to the Superior Court, a PCRA petition goes back to the trial court that convicted you. PCRA petitions are often filed after an unsuccessful direct appeal. However, a direct appeal is not required to file a PCRA petition. You can choose to skip a direct appeal altogether if you want. This is useful for defendants who may have waived their rights to a direct appeal as part of a plea agreement. Much like a direct appeal, a PCRA petition will raise issues and arguments about why the court should reconsider its ruling.
Unlike a direct appeal, the grounds for filing a PCRA petition are more limited. On a direct appeal, you can raise almost any issue as long as it was preserved for appeal at trial. A PCRA petition, however, is limited to the grounds and claims mentioned previously. The upside is that you do not have to raise these issues at trial to preserve them for your PCRA petition. Issues like ineffective assistance of counsel and new evidence are often broached for the first time in a PCRA petition.
What is the Right to Counsel Under the PCRA in Philadelphia?
The United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions both guarantee the right to counsel during criminal proceedings. Implicit in that right is a guarantee to effective counsel. Effective counsel is a lawyer who handles a case as a professional and prepared lawyer would. Every lawyer in every trial must be qualified and live up to this standard. Having an unqualified or unprofessional lawyer is just as bad – or worse than – not having a lawyer at all.
To fulfill these obligations, both federal and Pennsylvania courts can review a criminal case to check if defense counsel fell below the expected standard level of performance. If the court determines that an error was made that likely affected the outcome of the case, a new trial may be ordered. Our Philadelphia post-conviction sentencing attorneys have the skills and experience to defend your rights and advocate for your relief in a post-conviction appeal.
Filing a PCRA Petition in Philadelphia
A petitioner must file their PCRA petition within one-year from the date their conviction becomes final. If you filed a direct appeal, your PCRA petition must be filed from the date the Superior Court rejected your direct appeal. Filing a direct appeal is not required to file a PCRA petition, but it will move the date of your one-year time limit.
If you miss this one-year deadline, the court may dismiss your petition. However, the court might decide to review your petition despite being untimely if you can provide a good reason why you were late. Our Philadelphia post-conviction sentencing attorneys will help you file your petition as soon as possible. Often, newly discovered evidence or changes in constitutional law have a short window of time in which you can file after that new discovery or legal change.
In your petition, you will need to provide any information and evidence you have that demonstrates how your rights were violated. This typically requires a written affidavit from you, the petitioner. For example, you would include information about how your attorney did not present evidence or arguments that you had discussed with them or how new evidence was not available at trial.
Relief for Successful PCRA Petitions and Collateral Appeals in Philadelphia
If the court grants you relief after reviewing your PCRA petition, you may be entitled to a new trial. However, this depends on the nature of the relief sought in your petition. Certain petitions, like those for ineffective assistance of counsel or new evidence, will likely require a new trial to make up for the errors and unfairness of the previous trial.
A petition claiming that the defendant was sentenced beyond the lawful maximum sentence might result in resentencing under new terms rather than a completely new trial.
If you have multiple claims for relief under the PCRA, include all of them in your petition. Make sure you request the best relief you can get by hiring a qualified attorney to file your PCRA petition and argue your case’s collateral appeal. Our Philadelphia post-conviction sentencing attorney can help you get the relief you are entitled to.
Our Philadelphia Post-Conviction and Sentencing Representation Attorney Can Help
Our Philadelphia post-conviction and sentencing attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long are experienced in litigating post-conviction relief petitions in state and federal courts. In some circumstances, these proceedings are the final opportunity for a convicted individual to secure a new trial. It is of the utmost importance to hire lawyers who are familiar with such a highly specialized practice. Call (215) 302-0171 to schedule a free legal consultation with our Philadelphia post-conviction and sentencing lawyers.