How the PCRA Process Works in PA
Mosser Appeals has handled over a thousand criminal appeals, Habeas Corpus petitions, and PCRA petitions. No one deserves to be convicted of a crime due to legal or procedural errors or misconduct during trial. Let us help you get the relief you deserve.
From the beginning of the process, there’s obviously a consultation with your lawyer. What your lawyer does is listens to what you have to say and considers things that could be brought in a PCRA petition. The next thing, and the most important thing to happen, is your lawyer needs to get the case file from your prior lawyer, and perhaps the most important piece of that case file are the trial transcripts, or if there’s a guilty plea, the guilty plea transcripts, and that allows the lawyer to do an investigation of the case. Client contact is also something that’s extremely important. My practice is to set up conference calls with the client or to have an email exchange over the prisoner’s email system to get a sense of what the client thinks about what went wrong with the trial.
Once that investigative process is done, and the issues have been identified, the first thing that happens in court is you file a Post-Conviction Relief Act petition. The petition is a pleading. What it is, is it’s a paragraph by paragraph document that talks about the history of the case, recites the facts in as persuasive a manner as possible to show innocence and then lays out the legal claims. Once that petition is filed, the Commonwealth generally gets 30 days to respond to that petition. More often than not the Commonwealth files what’s called a motion to dismiss and that’s a document that says the petition should be dismissed on legal grounds. When that document’s filed it falls on us to file a brief in response, and the brief in response is a legal document that puts forth legal arguments citing case law explaining why the petition is properly filed and why you’re entitled to relief.
Once all those paper pleadings are entered in the record, the judge either decides the case on the pleadings or decides to have a hearing. If the case is decided against you on the pleadings, the judge will do what’s called issuing a 907 notice, and what that is it’s a notice that the court intends to dismiss the petition. That gives you another 20 days to tell the judge why you’re right and why the petition shouldn’t be dismissed. Assuming the petition’s dismissed then you’d have 30 days to file an appeal. On the other hand, if a hearing is granted the hearing will be scheduled, and you get your witnesses together, and you assemble your evidence, and you go to a hearing. A PCRA hearing is basically a mini-trial where your goal is to get a new trial, and after that hearing, the judge will decide the case. If it’s decided in your favor the most common relief is you get a new trial. If it’s decided against you, then you start an appeals process with the appellate courts.
How Long Do You Have to File a PCRA Petition?
So, for PCRA petitions, the process is, normally there is an irregular appeal first. You have a year from when your judgment of sentence becomes final. What that means is, is if you appeal, when your appeal is over, either after the superior court decides the case or after the Supreme Court denies taking the case, you’ll have a year from that date to file your PCRA petition. That’s the general rule. However, if you don’t take an appeal, then you have a year from the day you’re sentenced to file a PCRA petition.
How Long Does a PCRA Petition Take
It depends on what Pennsylvania county you’re in. In Philadelphia, the general rule of thumb is it takes about a year. In other counties, I’ve seen petitions filed and decided within five months. So it really depends on what county you’re in and how congested the docket is of the judge that you’re dealing with is.
How Much Does it Cost to File a PCRA Petition?
So, in determining what the cost would be for a PCRA petition, there are a couple of things that come into play. The first thing is how long was your trial? Was it a guilty plea, was it a one day trial, was it a two-week trial? How serious are the charges? Is it a simple drug case, or it is a first-degree murder case?
The bigger and more complicated the case, the more expensive the price is going to be. Other things to consider with PCRA petitions are am I going to have to hire an investigator? Do I need to go and find witnesses? Will I need to spend time investigating the case to look for new evidence? Those are things that could drive the costs a little higher.
Another consideration for the cost of PCRAs is how complicated are the issues? Are the issues straightforward, or are they going to require a lot of creative research and writing? That’s another thing that could drive the cost of PCRA petitions. So, when you ask how much does it cost, my answer is going to be to ask you a lot of questions about what’s involved in the case.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pennsylvania’s PCRA Process
I’ve been wrongly convicted of a crime. What can I do about it?
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you can take any or all of three actions:
- File a direct appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, or if convicted of a federal crime, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals;
- FIle a PCRA petition;
- File a Writ of Habeas Corpus appeal in federal District Court.
What is a PCRA petition?
The PCRA meaning is a request for relief from a criminal conviction, under the Post Conviction Relief Act in Pennsylvania. In other states, this form of relief is called a PCR petition.
Sometimes a defendant files a PCRA petition immediately after conviction and sentencing. Under different circumstances, a defendant files a PCRA petition after the regular appeals process fails to give him or her the relief they seek. Your attorney will help you decide which course of action is best for you, considering the unique circumstances of your particular case.
How long do I have to file a PCRA petition?
You must file a PCRA petition within a year from the day the judgment of the sentence becomes final. If you’ve filed an appeal from your conviction, that year does not start to run until all of your appeals are exhausted. If you do not appeal from your conviction, you have a year from the day you were sentenced to file your PCRA petition.
What are the PCRA Exceptions?
The term “PCRA exceptions” refers to the exceptions to the rule that a PCRA petition must be filed within a year. The exceptions include:
- Governmental interference;
- Newly discovered evidence;
- A newly-recognized Constitutional right.
In general, a petitioner will have 60 days from the time he or she learned of the exception to file a PCRA petition.
Is post-conviction relief an appeal?
No. They differ both in the procedure and the type of relief that is available.
What is the difference between an appeal and post-conviction relief?
A direct appeal will bring up all of the issues that a PCRA petition would set forth, but what differs is that no new evidence is introduced on appeal. During a PCRA hearing, the new evidence can be presented.
The relief that is available also differs. On appeal, a defendant might be acquitted entirely or exonerated, or the conviction overturned and the case remanded to the lower court for a fair trial. If a PCRA petition is successful, a defendant usually just gets a new, fair trial.
What is a reason a convicted criminal can appeal a case?
Those convicted of a crime have an absolute right to appeal. Common reasons to appeal a conviction include:
- Legal error
- Admitting inadmissible evidence
- Ineffective assistance of counsel
- Juror misconduct
- Prosecutorial misconduct
- Incorrect jury instructions
- Lack of sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict
Those entering a guilty plea do not have an automatic right to an appeal. If their request for an appeal is denied, they can however file a PCRA petition.
How long does an appeal take in PA?
Under PA’s Rules of Appellate Procedure Rule 902, a notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the lower court within 30 days of conviction.
After that, it largely depends upon the congestion of the docket of the body you are appealing to, the complexity of your case, and whether you pursue appeals all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. This could take years.
What is a post-conviction review?
“Post-conviction review” is not the name of any legal proceeding, but may refer to the process a defendant and his PCRA attorney go through to investigate the case and prepare the PCRA petition.
“Post-conviction review” might also informally refer to the time that the judge takes to review the PCRA petition, or the entire PCRA process, as in, “My case is currently under post-conviction review.”
What is post-conviction collateral relief?
In criminal law, collateral relief is relief granted on grounds other than the conviction itself. For example, collateral relief is what is granted should the court overturn a defendant’s sentence on the grounds that the sentence itself is illegal. This is most often used in death penalty cases.
How long does a post-conviction petition take?
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it depends upon what county you are in. In Philadelphia County, for example, the PCRA process takes about a year. In some other counties, a PCRA petition is filed and decided within five months. It depends upon how congested the docket is of the judge you’ve been assigned.
How much does it cost to file a PCRA petition?
Of course, it varies. The bigger and more complicated the case, the more expensive it will be to prepare and file a PCRA petition. For example, a guilty plea or a one day trial will be much less expensive than a first-degree murder case, on trial for two weeks.
Aspects of a case that make a PCRA more expensive include:
- The need to locate witnesses
- The length and number of transcripts
- The need to hire an investigator
- The nature of the legal issues – how complicated or novel are they?
During our initial talks when we get an idea of the nature of your case, we will be able to give you an idea of how much it will cost.
What is the most common type of post-conviction relief?
The most common kind of post-conviction relief is getting a new trial. This means that the results of the old trial are thrown out completely, you get a new judge and jury, the prosecutor must mount a new prosecution, and the successful PCRA petitioner must mount a new defense.
What is a Rule 32 motion?
Rule 32 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides for the way in which someone convicted of a federal crime can file for post-conviction relief in the federal court system, It is a federal PCRA.
How do you prepare a PCRA petition?
First, you meet with your attorney and talk about what happened at the trial and how the trial attorney, prosecutor, and judge handled the case. We want to hear what you think went wrong with your case. We generally meet with clients via a conference call or an email exchange over the prison’s email system.
Our legal team then obtains transcripts of the trial or guilty plea and sentencing. We then investigate to uncover any errors. We then file a PCRA petition, which is a pleading that talks about the history of your case, sets forth the facts as persuasively as possible to show innocence, and lays out your legal claims.
How does a PCRA hearing work? What happens at a PCRA hearing?
Once we file your PCRA petition, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has 30 days to respond. Often the Commonwealth will file a motion to dismiss your petition. We must then respond with a legal brief explaining why the motion to dismiss should be denied.
The judge will either decide the motion on the pleadings or hold a hearing. If the judge decides to dismiss the case on the pleadings, the judge will issue what is called a 907 Notice, giving us notice that the court intends to dismiss your petition and giving us another 20 days to convince the judge that you are entitled to relief and that your petition should not be dismissed. If your petition is dismissed anyway, you have 30 days to file an appeal.
If the judge holds a PCRA hearing, we will gather all of your witnesses and other evidence and attend the hearing. A PCRA hearing is basically a mini-trial, where our goal is to get you a new trial because the errors in your original trial caused you to be wrongly convicted. If the judge decides in your favor, most commonly you’ll get a new trial. If the PCRA hearing is decided against you, then you can appeal.