Pennsylvania Criminal Appeals Process
Preserving the Issue for Appeal:
In order to appeal a criminal conviction in Pennsylvania, you or your attorney must have legal ground(s) to appeal the case and properly preserve this legal issue for appeal. Preserving the issue for appeal may involve making a timely objection to inadmissible evidence, stating the grounds for the objection and placing any relevant documents or testimony into the record. Remember an appellate court is not a trial court. It cannot call witnesses or re-open the case for testimony. It only see what testimony is placed on the record (i.e.- typed by a court reporter) or what documents are offered into evidence.
Post –Sentence Motions
Post sentence motions are very important. If applicable, it always prudent for you or your lawyer to file a post-sentence motion with Court of Common Pleas (a.k.a. – the trial court) asking the court to reconsider its ruling. A post-sentence motion must be filed within 10 days from the date of your conviction as required by the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. The trial court is required to rule on your post-sentence motion within 120 days of the filing of the motion. Your motion will be deemed denied by operation of law if the judge does not rule within the time period mentioned.
Notice of Appeal
In order to appeal your sentence, you, the appellant, must file a notice of appeal within 30 days from the date of sentence or if a post-sentence motion is filed, within 30 days of the denial of the post-sentence motion. A notice of appeal must be filed with the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. You must provide two copies of the notice of appeal to the Clerk of Courts.
Criminal Docketing Statement
Once your attorney has filed the notice of appeal, your case will be assigned an appellate docketing number. Once the docketing number is assigned, the Superior Court Prothonotary’s Office will send a letter containing the Superior Court docket number and will send a criminal docketing statement. Your attorney will have 14 days to fill out this docketing statement and return it to the prothonotary’s office.
Certified Record is Transmitted to the Superior Court
Once a notice of appeal is filed, the trial court judge is required to prepare a memorandum in support of his or her opinion. Once this is accomplished, the Clerk of Courts of the Court of Common Pleas must send the record to the Superior Court Prothonotary. The record includes all transcripts, exhibits, motions, memoranda and judicial opinions in the case. Please note that your attorney should go to the Superior Court Prothonotary’s Office and check that the entire record was transmitted. It is the appellant’s responsibility to see that all appropriate documents have been forwarded to the Superior Court Prothonotary’s Office. Please also keep in mind that any physical exhibits of any size or bulk will not be sent to the Superior Court. If you wish the Court to review these exhibits, a special request must be made by your attorney.
The Superior Court will establish a briefing schedule. Your attorney will have 40 days to draft a brief arguing your case to the Superior Court. If your attorney will not be able to complete the brief within the required 40 days, he or she should file a motion for an extension.
The Reply Letter
Once the appellant’s brief has been docketed with the Superior Court, the Prothonotary’s Office will send a letter to you or your attorney asking you to select one of the following options for the listing of the appeal before the Court:
- Expedited Argument list. (a 5 minute oral argument for each side)
- Standard Argument List: ( allows 15 minutes for oral argument)
- Submitted for review on the briefs.
The listing automatically defaults to submission on the briefs if appellant’s counsel never responds to the reply letter.
- Oral Argument
Once the court has read the legal briefs or heard oral argument, a three judge panel will make a decision in your case. The Court may draft an opinion or memorandum. The Court may also decide your case by a judgment order which will simply cite the relevant case law the Court’s opinion was based upon.
Petition for Reconsideration and/or Appeal to the Supreme Court
If you lose your appeal, your attorney has 14 days to file a petition for reconsideration or re-argument with Pennsylvania Superior Court. Your attorney may also file a Petition for Allowance of an Appeal with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court only accepts a small percentage of cases and does not have to accept your case. You do not have an absolute right to appeal to the Supreme Court.
If the Superior Court grants your request for oral argument, the Court will mail oral argument notification letters to your attorney. Generally oral argument notification letters are mailed out six to eight weeks before argument is heard. If your attorney is not available, he or she should apply for a continuance as soon as possible.
Oral argument will most likely occur before a 3 judge panel consisting of 2 commissioned judges and 1 senior judge. You may apply to have your case heard before an en banc panel which will consist of not more than 9 commissioned judges.
Contact my office if you have any questions regarding the appeals process or need representation appealing your case to the Superior Court.