Pennsylvania PCRA Lawyer

I cannot tell you how many times people have met with me after they were convicted and lost their appeal and said, “My lawyer made a mess of my case. If I had only met you earlier.”

Hope is not lost. An experienced Pennsylvania criminal appeals lawyer may be able to help.

Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)

Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act, commonly referred to as the “PCRA,” allows individuals who are serving a sentence to challenge their conviction on certain constitutional and statutory grounds. Those grounds include:

  • constitutional violations of significant magnitude;
  • ineffective assistance of a prior attorney at trial, sentencing, or appeal;
  • an unlawfully induced guilty plea of a likely innocent person;
  • governmental obstruction of the right to appeal;
  • newly discovered evidence; and
  • establishing that no subject matter jurisdiction existed in the court where the conviction occurred.

Of these, the most frequent ground for post-conviction relief is ineffective assistance of counsel. To obtain relief under the PCRA for those claims, you must prove three points: 1) the claim is of arguable merit – meaning that the mistake that you are alleging is truly a mistake; 2) that the mistake you accuse your attorney of making was not a reasonable strategic decision; and 3) that if the claimed error did not occur, there is a reasonable likelihood that the result of the proceeding would be different.

Challenging Your Trial Attorney’s Effectiveness

When challenging your prior lawyer’s effectiveness under section 2255, it is important to remember that courts begin these proceedings with the belief that the representation you received was effective. This is a difficult presumption to overcome. The best way to increase the odds of success is by hiring an experienced Pennsylvania PCRA lawyer.

The very first case that I was hired for after entering private practice involved a client who had been convicted of worker’s compensation fraud. It would generally be a terrible idea to hire a lawyer with no private practice experience for such a case. But due to my time as an appellate prosecutor, I knew the PCRA inside and out. I filed a post-conviction relief petition on my client’s behalf, and after being granted an evidentiary hearing, a judge reversed the convictions because I proved that my client’s trial attorney had been ineffective. The retrial ended in a hung jury, and my client received an offer that did not result in conviction. He went from being convicted of fraud to a clean criminal record.

A petition seeking post-conviction relief must be filed within one year of the date on which the judgment of sentence in a criminal case becomes final. Calculating that date can be difficult, but it essentially means that you must file a PCRA petition no later than one year after you lose on appeal or the date on which seeking an appeal expires. In certain circumstances, petitions can be filed later, but immediate action is almost always required.

The time constraints for filing under the PCRA are unforgiving. If you do not file within the limits specified in the statute, you have likely lost the right to raise the issues. Lawyers who do not practice PCRA proceedings regularly often do not understand the timeliness requirements imposed. A mistake in the time calculation could have disastrous consequences.

Call a PCRA Attorney in Pennsylvania

Proceedings seeking relief under the PCRA are difficult and there is no room for error. Neglecting to file on time, not including certain facts in pleadings, and not understanding what actually needs to be proved are surprisingly frequent mistakes. This is a highly specialized practice area that should be left to an experienced Pennsylvania PCRA lawyer like Lloyd Long. If you have any further questions regarding the PCRA or the criminal appeals process in general, call our office at (215) 731-9500 today for a consultation.