Understanding the change in your legal status and navigating your options after being convicted of a crime can be incredibly difficult. Ultimately, you should speak with an attorney about the particular circumstances of your case, but here are some things to keep in mind.
The Record and Preservation of Issues
The record refers to anything that was formally presented to the court. Usually, this includes anything that was filed with the court and testimony, evidence, and arguments presented to the judge or jury.
If there is an issue with anything on the record, that issue needs to be promptly raised with the court. Generally, this can be accomplished by raising a specific objection or filing a motion. The court will rule on the objection or the motion. If the court’s ruling is not in your favor, the issue will now be preserved on the record. The issue needs to be preserved on the record so that it can appealed later.
What does ‘convicted’ mean?
Convicted means that there has been a formal judgment declaring you guilty of a crime. The formal judgment can be based on the entry of a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by a judge or jury, at trial.
Sentencing and Post-Sentence Motions
After you have been convicted, you will be sentenced. This can occur on the same day you are convicted or on a later date, it depends on the circumstances of your case. If there is an issue with your sentence, it needs to be raised at the sentencing hearing or in post-sentence motions.
Post-sentence motions must be filed within 10 days from the date you are sentenced. Post-sentence motions may include:
- Motion challenging the validity of a guilty plea, or denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea;
- Motion for judgment of acquittal;
- Motion in arrest of judgment;
- Motion for a new trial;
- Motion to modify sentence; and,
- Motion for a new trial based on after-discovered evidence.
The court has 120 days from the date the post-sentence motions are filed to rule. If the court rules against you within that time frame, you have 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
If the court does not rule within 120 days, the motions are denied by operation of law. That means that on day 120, the law assumes the judge denied your motions and the clerk of courts is supposed to enter an order to that effect. From day 120, you have 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
This is your appeal to the Superior Court. It is at this stage that you would appeal the denial of your post-sentence motions, along with evidentiary or other trial issues that were preserved on the record. The issues raised on direct appeal may include, but are not limited to:
- Sufficiency of the evidence;
- Weight of the evidence;
- Abuse of discretion in denying a motion;
- Abuse of discretion in overruling an objection;
- Errors in instructions of the law to the jury; and,
- Ineffective assistance of prior counsel.
During this stage, the lower court who originally entered your judgment will file an opinion on the issues raised with the Superior Court. Your attorney and the Commonwealth will submit briefs. The Superior Court may also ask for oral arguments on some or all the issues.
After that, the Superior Court will render a decision. The Superior Court may affirm, or agree, with the lower court’s opinion. The Superior Court may reverse, or disagree, with the lower court’s opinion. Or the Superior Court may find there is an insufficient record and remand, or send, the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.
If you do not agree with the Superior Court’s decision, you have the option of asking for permission to appeal to additional higher courts, however, these courts are extremely selective and only take a limited number of cases.
After your direct appeal, if you are still dissatisfied with the outcome of your case, you may still have a means of relief through collateral appeals. Collateral appeals include the Post-Conviction Relief Act and Habeas Corpus relief. Typically, these types of appeals need to be filed within 1 year of the conclusion of your direct appeal.
If you are having trouble understanding what will happen to you after you are convicted of a crime, reach out to one of our attorneys before it happens! It is always good to have a plan in place just in case!