After a defendant has been convicted, he has a few options to challenge the conviction. Along with a post-sentencing motion and a direct appeal, one of the methods a defendant may use to challenge his conviction is a petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA).
What is a PCRA petition?
A PCRA petition is used to challenge the validity of a conviction where the defendant believes that he was subjected to:
1.) A constitutional violation
2.) Ineffective assistance of counsel
3.) He was illegally compelled to plead guilty
4.) There was governmental obstruction
5.) Evidence that would have helped prove his innocence is now available and was unavailable at the time of trial
6.) A sentence that is longer than the statute allows
7.) The court that convicted him did not have jurisdiction
Who is eligible to file a PCRA petition?
A defendant who: 1.) is currently serving a sentence for the conviction being challenged (or a sentence that must be served before the sentence for the challenged conviction starts), 2.) alleges one of the seven errors listed above, 3.) has filed the petition on time, 4.) has exhausted all other remedies, 4.) didn’t waive or otherwise lose his right to raise the issue.
When can a defendant file a PCRA petition?
A defendant can file a PCRA petition after his direct appeal has ended.
How do I know if an attorney is qualified to do a PCRA?
To determine if an attorney is qualified to represent you for a PCRA action, you should follow the same steps used to hire a criminal defense attorney outlined here: http://bickerton-law.blogspot.com/2009/02/commentary-how-to-pick-criminal-defense.html
Specifically, you will want to ask the attorney how many PCRA’s she has dealt with, what training she has received in doing a PCRA, whether she stays up to date on the case law for PCRAs, and whether she reads through all of the trial transcripts when creating the petition. Also, you will want to have a lawyer who will explain what issues you may have and whether your issues “have merit.” Even if the attorney chooses not to take your case, he should, at the minimum, explain why he feels your issues would fail in court.
How long can it take for my PCRA petition to be heard?
This can take from a few months to a year.
If the judge does not rule in my favor, can I appeal?
Yes. You will have the option of appealing the case to the Superior and Supreme courts.