Appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest court in the Commonwealth. It is also the oldest appellate court in the United States. If a criminal appeal is not successful in the Superior Court, most people’s natural reaction is to ask their Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer to appeal to the Supreme Court. 

In all but a few situations, there is no automatic right to appeal a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. You must first file a request, known as a Petition for Allowance of Appeal, that explains why your case is important enough to justify review in the Supreme Court.

On average, approximately 2,000 requests for appeal are filed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court each year. The Court grants review in 2-3% of these cases. This amount, which is already very low, has been decreasing over the past few years.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court grants review only for what it considers to be important reasons. Some of those reasons include:

  • disagreement among different panels of the Superior Court on the same issue;
  • a decision by the Superior Court that disagrees with a prior decision by the United States or Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
  • an issue that has not been previously decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
  • an issue of substantial public importance;
  • an issue concerning whether a statute is constitutional; and
  • a decision by the Superior Court that is extremely and plainly wrong.

Some of these reasons appear to be similar at first glance. While a few are related, there are subtle differences that are important. Knowing how to present these differences might result in a request for appeal being granted and denied.

When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agrees to hear a case, the likelihood of reversing the Superior Court’s decision is substantially higher than in a typical appeal. In recent history, the Supreme Court has reversed close to the same number of cases that it has affirmed.

Unlike the Superior Court, virtually every case that the Supreme Court agrees to hear involves oral argument. This is not the place for an inexperienced lawyer. The Justices are well prepared for each case. They know the weakness of each case and will often ask questions in rapid succession of the lawyer making argument to expose weaknesses in their position. 

As with any criminal appeal in Pennsylvania, an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer will increase your chances of success in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But more importantly, having a Pennsylvania appellate attorney who knows what the Supreme Court is looking for will increase your chances of actually having your case heard. Contact attorney Lloyd Long today for a consultation.