Legal Options Under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)

A lawyer can seek relief for a convicted individual through Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). PCRA provides an indirect method of appeal separate and apart from a direct appeal which could proceed from the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. Filing a PCRA petition can be particularly useful because it can allow for relief even when a direct appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been denied.

The eligibility requirements for Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act, i.e. the certain aspects of your case that must be present to raise claims under the PCRA, may be found at 42 Pa.C.S. § 9543. This section of the PCRA provides that a petitioner/defendant must have been convicted of a crime under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is either serving a sentence in prison or on probation or parole for a crime, awaiting execution of a sentence of death for a crime, or, if the petitioner/defendant has completed the sentence of imprisonment, probation or parole for a crime, is seeking relief related to postconviction DNA testing.

In addition to the eligibility requirements, post-conviction relief through the PCRA can only be sought when certain standards can be met. To start, the PCRA appeal must be filed within one-year of the denial of the final direct appeal, or within one year of the conviction if the defendant chooses to forego a direct appeal. Furthermore, PCRA petitions can only address matters stemming from the following:

  • There was ineffective assistance by the trial lawyer such that “no reliable determination of the truth” could have occurred.
  • The conviction involved a violation of the Constitution of the United States or Pennsylvania.
  • It appears a guilty plea was induced or that the plea was likely false.
  • The imposed sentence exceeded the maximum penalty.
  • The government wrongly obstructed a defendant’s right to appeal.
  • New evidence that would change the verdict has come to light.

In addition, the matter must be a new issue not previously litigated to qualify for PCRA relief. An issue is previously litigated if “it has been raised and decided in a proceeding collaterally attacking the conviction or sentence.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 9544(a)(3).

If the petitioner/defendant does not file a PCRA petition within one year from the judgment of sentence, the PCRA court may still consider the petition if an exception to the one-year time bar is met. Section 9545 of the PCRA provides the following three limited exceptions that allow for review of an untimely PCRA petition:

(i) the failure to raise a claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or the law of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or law of the United States;

(ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or

(iii) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provide in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9545(b)(1)(i)-(iii).

A petition invoking one of these exceptions is to be filed within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented, that is, within 60 days of uncovering the new evidence or within 60 days of the date of the Opinion issued by the Supreme Court.

If you have been convicted of a crime in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania, filing a petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act is an important step in working to regain your freedom. The Pennsylvania PCRA is a confusing statute and it is easy to make mistakes attacking your conviction under the PCRA if you do not file the petition on time and in the proper manner. Having a PCRA attorney like Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer who can advocate on your behalf and present your claims in the best light is essential to overturning your conviction and receiving a new trial. We invite you to contact us or call for a free consultation at 215-712-1212 today.