Although common reasoning may assume that a criminal case ends when the defendant is convicted in a court of law, this is not always the case. Some convictions can occur due to unlawful circumstances that may include a violation of proper court procedures or an infringement of the defendant’s constitutional rights. If you are facing such a scenario, you have the right to fight against your charges and conviction with the goal of having them overturned. A Pittsburgh appeal lawyer can help you fight for this outcome if you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, criminal cases are most often heard in a Court of Common Pleas. The manner in which you file an appeal of a criminal conviction in Pennsylvania is by requesting a higher court, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, to review particular aspects of your trial for legal errors that may lead the Court to reverse the conviction.
An experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer from our team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can help you appeal your conviction with the goal of having it eliminated from your record. Call us today at (412) 281-2146 to request a free case evaluation and to learn more about the criminal process surrounding your case.
Basis for an Appeal
An appeal you make to the Superior Court is a request for the judges sitting on that court to review and reverse your conviction based on one or more legal errors that occurred in the trial. The foundation of your argument will be that crucial mistakes were made in your trial which resulted in a faulty jury decision. Some of the critical legal errors that may be part of your argument and justify an overturning of your conviction include: improper inclusion of evidence, a total misreading of the law, a biased or unfair judge, as well as other possible significant mistakes.
The Superior Court, when reviewing your request, will look at the record of the case in the lower court (Court of Common Pleas). This record can include transcripts and evidence from the original hearing, and the legal briefs filed with the appeal that present your argument as to why the lower court’s conviction against you should be reversed.
The basis for your appeal must be more than just any mistake that occurred in your trial. The mistake must have been of such a substantial nature as to clearly affect the outcome of the trial. These errors which are the basis for an appeal may also occur in a guilty plea scenario where there was no trial.
Common Grounds for Appeal
Although criminal appeal issues can be complicated, an experienced Pittsburgh appeal lawyer from our team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC working on your behalf will understand all of the grounds that may justify an appeal to the Superior Court.
Some of the possible grounds for appeal that have the potential to lead to an overturning of your conviction include:
- The judge wrongly excluded evidence that would have benefited your case
- The judge allowed evidence that was detrimental against you and violated your rights
- The judge permitted the prosecution to make certain arguments against criminal procedure or the rules of evidence
- The judge did not consider crucial information in the case
- The judge failed to provide the jury with proper and clear instructions
- Your attorney failed to provide you with effective representation, either at trial or during plea bargaining
- Law enforcement and/or the prosecution associated with your case engaged in misconduct
- The sentence you received was excessive or inappropriate for your conviction
- One or more of the prosecution’s witnesses committed perjury
These and other possible legal grounds for an appeal of your conviction and/or imposed sentence may be explored by your Pittsburgh appeal lawyer.
Process for a Criminal Appeal
The criminal appeals process in Pennsylvania can be quite cumbersome and time-consuming. However, the process is worth going through if you believe the lower court that tried your case made one or more critical errors that resulted in your conviction or unjust sentence. It’s important to keep pace with the tight deadlines that must be met with filing an appeal with the Superior Court. If you miss these deadlines, your case for appeal may be thrown out.
The process for submitting a criminal appeal in Pennsylvania is as follows:
- Preserving the Issue for Appeal- You and your attorney must properly preserve the legal grounds for your appeal. This can involve stating the grounds for your objection, objecting to inadmissible evidence in a timely fashion, and putting relevant testimony or documents into the record.
- Post-Sentence Motions- Before you appeal to the Superior Court, it is important to file a post-sentence motion with the trial court (Court of Common Pleas) to reconsider its decision. This motion must be filed within 10 days of your conviction. The trial court must rule on your post-sentence motion within 120 days of the date you filed the motion. If the court does not rule within that time period, your motion is automatically denied.
- Notice of Appeal- If you have filed a post-sentence motion with the trial court as mentioned above, you have 30 days from the denial of that motion to file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the Court of Common Pleas – two copies must be submitted. If you have not filed a post-sentence motion, you have 30 days from the date of your sentence to file a notice of appeal.
- Criminal Docketing Statement- Once your Pittsburgh appeal lawyer has filed your notice of appeal, your case will be given an appellate docketing number. Next, the Prothonotary’s Office of the Superior Court will issue you a letter with the docket number and a docketing statement. Your lawyer will have 14 days to complete the docketing statement form and return it to the Prothonotary’s office.
- Certified Record is Transmitted to the Superior Court- Once you have found a notice of appeal, the trial court judge is required to put together a memorandum that supports the judge’s opinion. When this is done, the Clerk of Courts of the Court of Common Pleas is required to send the record to the Superior Court’s Prothonotary Office. The record should include all of the judicial opinions in the case, memoranda, exhibits (excluding sizable, bulky physical exhibits), motions, and transcripts. Your attorney must make a special request if you wish the Superior Court to review any sizable, bulky physical exhibits. As the appellant, you must also check to ensure that the entire case record has been transmitted to the Prothonotary’s Office.
- Briefing Schedule- Once the certified record is transmitted, the Superior Court will issue a briefing schedule. Your Pittsburgh appeal lawyer will then have 40 days to draft a brief that makes your case to the Superior Court.
- The Reply Letter- After your brief has been docketed, you or your attorney will receive a letter from the Prothonotary’s Office giving you three options for the listing of your appeal before the Court: (1) Submitted for review based on the briefs; (2) Expedited argument listing (allowing for five minutes oral argument per side); (3) Standard argument listing (allowing for 15 minutes of oral argument per side). If your attorney does not respond to this letter, the listing will be automatically submitted for review based on the briefs.
- Oral Arguments- If the Superior Court accepts your request for oral argument, your attorney will receive an oral argument notification letter from the court within about six to eight weeks prior to the date for arguments. Most often, a three judge panel that consists of one senior judge and two commissioned judges hears the oral arguments. You do have the option to have your arguments heard before a larger panel of commissioned judges (not more than nine), referred to as an en banc panel.
- The Decision- Once the Superior Court has heard oral arguments or read the legal briefs, the three judge panel (or en banc panel) will make a decision on your appeal. The decision may involve the drafting of a memorandum or an opinion. Or, the Court may issue a judgment order citing case law which informed the Court’s decision.
- Petition for Reconsideration- If your appeal is denied, your attorney will have 14 days to request the Superior Court to reconsider or re-argue the appeal.
- Appealing to the Supreme Court- Your lawyer may also file a Petition for Allowance of an Appeal with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. However, the Supreme Court only takes a small number of cases in comparison to those submitted, and is not under any obligation to review your case.
Contact an Experienced Pittsburgh Appeal Lawyer
If you have experienced a wrongful conviction on a criminal charge, you may be uncertain as to your legal options for appeal. Our Pittsburgh appeal attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC can discover all of the possible grounds for a criminal appeal in your case and work hard to have your faulty conviction overturned.
Contact us today at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation about your case.