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Frequently Asked Questions

I was found guilty in the Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania. I want to appeal. What is my first step?

You must file all appropriate post trial motions and/or motions for reconsideration of sentence before the trial judge. Once those motion are disposed, you must file a notice of appeal. After the notice of appeal, you must file a statement that tells all parties, the District Attorney, the trial judge, and the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, the grounds on which you plan to appeal. The trial judge will write an opinion and certify the record to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The Superior Court will issue a briefing schedule, and then you can file your appeal.

My lawyer did a terrible job at my trial and I wish to file an appeal based on my lawyer's poor performance at trial. Can I do this?

Yes. Under the Post Conviction Relief Act, you can file an appeal to say that your lawyer did a poor job at your trial. This type of appeal is a bit tricky in that you can only file this type of appeal once your direct appeal has been denied and is final. You must file a PCRA appeal within one year of the termination of you direct appeal. Also, there are issues pertaining to your custody for this type of appeal, i.e. whether you are in jail or on the street. The explanation for that part of my answer is too great for this section.

I was found guilty in the Municipal Court of Philadelphia. I am unhappy with the outcome. Is there anything I can do? Can I appeal?

You have the right to have a trial de novo if you file an appeal to the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia within thirty days from the date of your sentencing. This means that you can ask to have your case transferred from the Municipal Court to Common Pleas Court so that you can either have a new bench trial or a jury trial.

What if I have no objection to the facts as the facts came out in the Municipal Court Trial in Philadelphia, but I feel that I should have won a motion to suppress or a motion to have the case dismissed under Municipal Court's Rule 1013, and I don't want a new trial, just an appeal of the legal ruling? What should I do?

You can file a Writ of Certiorari. The word Certiorari from a legal stand point means, "review by a higher court." In Philadelphia County, to save time and resources, you can simply file a Writ of Certiorari to have a Common Pleas Court judge review the legal rulings of the Municipal Court Judge. In that instance, you do not go to trial again whether you win or lose your Writ of Certiorari.

New evidence has been uncovered in my case that proves I am innocent (DNA). All of my appellate rights have been extinguished. Can I do anything to get a hearing on the newly discovered evidence?

Yes. You can file a motion under the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) and ask for a hearing for a judge to review the new evidence. This is an extremely difficult avenue, but can be very successful as evinced by the Innocence Project nationwide. If you are out of custody, the standard for getting a hearing is much tougher.

I plead guilty before a Common Pleas Court Judge in Pennsylvania. I have changed my mind. Can I withdraw that plea?

If you have not yet been sentenced you can ask your lawyer to file a motion with the Judge to ask to withdraw your plea. If you have already been sentenced and you are within thirty days of the sentencing, your lawyer can file a motion with the judge or an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, but you generally must show that you either: 1. did not voluntarily plea guilty; 2. you got an illegal sentence; or 3. that your sentencing Judge did not have proper jurisdiction over your case and your guilty plea.

I was at a magisterial district court, Philadelphia's Municipal Court, or Philadelphia's Traffic Court, for a summary offense like speeding, public drunkenness, retail theft, etc., and I did not get a fair trial. The judge didn't even listen to what I had to say. What can I do?

Appeal to the Court of Common Pleas in that same county and ask for a new trial. Also, note that you can now get almost all summary convictions expunged.

I lost my direct appeal in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. I want to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Do I have a right to appeal tot he Supreme Court of Pennsylvania?

No. You absolutely do not have a right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. You must file a "Petition for Allowance of Appeal." A Petition for Allowance of Appeal asks for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. No official law is given for the actual criteria for the Supreme Court regarding what they are to consider in granting the petition. However, in my opinion, based on the law as I read it, there are three grounds that MAY help your chances: 1. a novel issue ; 2. a matter of current event; 3. matter previously decided by the Supreme Court specifically disregarded by the Superior Court.

Also note that if your appeal was to the Commonwealth Court, not the Superior Court, you have an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and need not ask for permission, just file a notice. Cases that originate in the Commonwealth Court are general appeals from matters pertaining to the administration of government.

If I lose my direct appeal in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania do I have any options left?

You have three options: 1. File an appeal with the Supreme Court of the United States; 2. File a Post Conviction Relief Act Petition; or 3. File a Habeas Petition in the Federal District Court in your jurisdiction. The third choice is too complicated to answer here.

What is Habeas Corpus?

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