Understanding Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act

Due to issues with the criminal justice system, ineffective counsel and a number of other reasons, you may feel that you were not treated fairly during your trial. In certain circumstances, you may be able to seek post-conviction relief from the court. At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, we are often asked what you can do about an unfair trial. In this post then, we will discuss the state’s Post Conviction Relief Act, or PRCA.

There are certain eligibility requirements that must be met in order to obtain relief under Pennsylvania’s PCRA. According to state law, you must prove the following:

  • You were convicted of a crime under state law and are currently serving a prison sentence, probation or parole for the offense.
  • You were convicted due to at least one pre-specified error.
  • The alleged error was not previously waived or litigated.

You must also provide proof that the failure to litigate the issue before or during the trial, or on direct appeal, was not the result of a strategic, rational or tactical decision by your legal representative.

State law stipulates the types of errors that may be used to seek relief under the PCRA. The most common reason for a PCRA challenge is that your legal representation was ineffective. This means that he or she failed to provide you with the best defense possible. A violation of the state’s Constitution, or the Constitution of the U.S., as well as unlawfully inducing a guilty plea may be considered qualifying errors. Furthermore, receiving a sentence that is greater than the legal maximum, holding proceedings in a tribunal that does not have jurisdiction, and finding new evidence or proving that existing evidence was overlooked during the original trial may also provide grounds for relief.