The time limit for filing a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief is one year from when the judgment of sentence became final. A judgment of sentence becomes final when the person’s appeal is over or when the person’s time to have appealed is over. Pennsylvania requires that the person seeking relief via a PCRA be serving a sentence at any point in time they could receive relief. This means that a person could timely file the PCRA but cease to be serving the sentence before the court can grant relief. Pittsburgh Criminal Appeal Attorney Robert E. Mielnicki, in at least 2 cases at the time this is being written, is seeking to change that law.
The law pertaining to PCRAs in Pennsylvania is as follows:
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9543. Eligibility for relief
(a) General rule.– To be eligible for relief under this subchapter, the petitioner must plead and prove by a preponderance of the evidence all of the following:
(1) That the petitioner has been convicted of a crime under the laws of this Commonwealth and is at the time relief is granted:
(i) currently serving a sentence of imprisonment, probation or parole for the crime;
(ii) awaiting execution of a sentence of death for the crime; or
(iii) serving a sentence which must expire before the person may commence serving the disputed sentence.
(2) That the conviction or sentence resulted from one or more of the following:
(i) A violation of the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.
(ii) Ineffective assistance of counsel which, in the circumstances of the particular case, so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place.
(iii) A plea of guilty unlawfully induced where the circumstances make it likely that the inducement caused the petitioner to plead guilty and the petitioner is innocent.
(iv) The improper obstruction by government officials of the petitioner’s right of appeal where a meritorious appealable issue existed and was properly preserved in the trial court.
(vi) The unavailability at the time of trial of exculpatory evidence that has subsequently become available and would have changed the outcome of the trial if it had been introduced.
(vii) The imposition of a sentence greater than the lawful maximum.
(viii) A proceeding in a tribunal without jurisdiction.
(3) That the allegation of error has not been previously litigated or waived.
(4) That the failure to litigate the issue prior to or during trial, during unitary review or on direct appeal could not have been the result of any rational, strategic or tactical decision by counsel.
(b) Exception.– Even if the petitioner has met the requirements of subsection (a), the petition shall be dismissed if it appears at any time that, because of delay in filing the petition, the Commonwealth has been prejudiced either in its ability to respond to the petition or in its ability to re-try the petitioner. A petition may be dismissed due to delay in the filing by the petitioner only after a hearing upon a motion to dismiss. This subsection does not apply if the petitioner shows that the petition is based on grounds of which the petitioner could not have discovered by the exercise of reasonable diligence before the delay became prejudicial to the Commonwealth.
(c) Extradition.– If the petitioner’s conviction and sentence resulted from a trial conducted in his absence and if the petitioner has fled to a foreign country that refuses to extradite him because a trial in absentia was employed, the petitioner shall be entitled to the grant of a new trial if the refusing country agrees by virtue of this provision to return him and if the petitioner upon such return to this jurisdiction so requests. This subsection shall apply, notwithstanding any other law or judgment to the contrary.
42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9545. Jurisdiction and proceedings
(a) Original jurisdiction.– Original jurisdiction over a proceeding under this subchapter shall be in the court of common pleas. No court shall have authority to entertain a request for any form of relief in anticipation of the filing of a petition under this subchapter.
(b) Time for filing petition.– (1) Any petition under this subchapter, including a second or subsequent petition, shall be filed within one year of the date the judgment becomes final, unless the petition alleges and the petitioner proves that:
(i) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim in violation of the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or the Constitution or laws of the United States;
(ii) the facts upon which the claim is predicated were unknown to the petitioner and could not have been ascertained by the exercise of due diligence; or
(iii) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania after the time period provided in this section and has been held by that court to apply retroactively.
(2) Any petition invoking an exception provided in paragraph (1) shall be filed within 60 days of the date the claim could have been presented.
(3) For purposes of this subchapter, a judgment becomes final at the conclusion of direct review, including discretionary review in the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, or at the expiration of time for seeking the review.
(4) For purposes of this subchapter, “government officials” shall not include defense counsel, whether appointed or retained.
(c) Stay of execution.– (1) No court shall have the authority to issue a stay of execution in any case except as allowed under this subchapter.
(2) Except for first petitions filed under this subchapter by defendants whose sentences have been affirmed on direct appeal by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania between January 1, 1994, and January 1, 1996, no stay may be issued unless a petition for post conviction relief which meets all the requirements of this subchapter has been filed and is pending and the petitioner makes a strong showing of likelihood of success on the merits.
(3) Suspended by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order of Aug. 11, 1997, imd. effective (27 Pa.B. 4298).
(d) Evidentiary hearing.– (1) Where a petitioner requests an evidentiary hearing, the petition shall include a signed certification as to each intended witness stating the witness’s name, address, date of birth and substance of testimony and shall include any documents material to that witness’s testimony. Failure to substantially comply with the requirements of this paragraph shall render the proposed witness’s testimony inadmissible.
(2) Suspended by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Order of Aug. 11, 1997, imd. effective (27 Pa.B. 4298).
(3) When a claim for relief is based on an allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel as a ground for relief, any privilege concerning counsel’s representation as to that issue shall be automatically terminated.
An issue that has developed over the past few years is DNA testing that exonerates a convicted defendant. As already mentioned, there are time limits to file a PCRA but there are exceptions for after-discovered evidence and specifically for DNA testing. The law pertaining to post-conviction DNA testing is set forth in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9543.1.
THIS IS AN OVERVIEW OF THE POST-CONVICTION RELIEF ACT IN PENNSYLVANIA AND AS YOU CAN SEE IT IS NOT SIMPLISTIC. CONTACT THE PITTSBURGH CRIMINAL LAW GROUP SO THAT WE CAN PUT OUR COMBINED 80 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE IN CRIMINAL LAW TO WORK DEFENDING YOUR CASE.