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To be eligible for relief under the PCRA, a defendant must have been convicted of a crime in PA and serving a sentence, whether in prison or on parole or probation.   PCRA’s are generally filed after appeals to the Superior or Supreme Court.  However, if one does not pursue a direct appeal, he/she can seek relief under the PCRA.   PCRA’s are generally time barred one year from when the Order or sentence is final, with a few exceptions.   PCRA’s are premature if the Superior Court or another appellate Court is reviewing the case, with a few exceptions. 

Some grounds for relief are:

  • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
  • After Discovered Evidence or Newly Discovered Evidence
  • Failure to Disclose Evidence
  • Prosecutorial Misconduct
  • Failure to Protect Appellate Rights
  • Plea of Guilty Unlawfully Induced
  • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Everyone has a constitutional right to COMPETENT counsel.  One is eligible for relief when counsel’s act or omission “so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.”   It must be proven that (1) the issue underlying the claim of ineffectiveness has arguable merit, an (2) counsel did not have a reasonable basis for the act or omission.   The act or omission must have had an adverse effect on the proceedings.

Counsel can be ineffective for not filing pre-trial motions such as motions to suppressor motions to sever.    Trial counsel can be ineffective for failing to present evidence, failing to cross examine, failing to object, and failing to request certain jury instructions.  

After Discovered Evidence or Newly Discovered Evidence

PCRA’s are generally time barred one year from when the Order or sentence is final.  One exception is after discovered evidence.  After discovered evidence must be promptly presented.   The evidence must have been unavailable at the time of trial through reasonable diligence.   Among other requirements, the evidence be proven to compel a different verdict.    Some common forms of newly discovered evidence is recantation testimony, DNA evidence or other eye-witness testimony. 

Failure to Disclose Evidence

The prosecutions failure to disclose exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland may undermine the truth determining process and require a new trial.  Brady material is evidence that is in the possession of the prosecution or the police that is material to the guilt or innocence or to the punishment of a defendant.   There withholding of Brady material must have affected the outcome of trial and not be readily obtainable by the defense.  

Prosecutorial Misconduct

In addition to Brady violations, other claims of prosecutorial misconduct that violate due process may require a new trial.  Other examples include improper remarks to the jury throughout the trial including opening and coding statements.  In order to prevail, the act must have undermined the truth determining process.  

Failure to Protect Appellate Rights

If counsel fails to file a timely appeal or post-trial motion, one is entitled to relief.   Said relief would include reinstatement of appellate rights.   If counsel is ineffective in appeal, appellate rights can be reinstated as well.

Plea of Guilty Unlawfully Induced

One who has pled guilty may seek post-conviction relief where the plea was unlawfully induced.  One must assert their innocence in this process.   It must be proven that the plea was a result of a manifest injustice.   The proposed relief would be a withdrawal of the plea and a trial. 

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