Appeals to the Pennsylvania Superior Court

The Pennsylvania Superior Court is the appellate court in which the huge majority of criminal appeals in Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania’s 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania, it is important to retain a Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer.

The Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania. 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 Pennsylvania Superior Court or the criminal appeals process in general, contact us today to request a consultation.