If you or a loved one has been convicted of a crime, you want to explore all of your options for post-conviction relief. Maybe you want to move for a new trial in the court where you were convicted. Maybe you want to file an appeal or a petition for writ of habeas corpus. Or maybe you’ve heard of the Post Conviction Relief Act but don’t really understand what it means. You’re not alone.
What is the Post Conviction Relief Act?
There is not a nationwide Post Conviction Relief Act. If you’ve heard the term “Post Conviction Relief Act,” you’ve probably heard about a state-specific law. But these laws only apply for those states. So this makes it extremely important for you understand your own state’s law because they can differ a lot.
One example comes from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s law allows some criminal defendants who are still serving their sentence to challenge their convictions. The benefit of this law is that they can still challenge these conditions even if they have already lost on appeal.
In many circumstances, you might not have all of the information you need to appeal before the appeal deadline. Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act gives you a chance to present that information later.
What arguments can you make in a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act?
You can raise a lot of different arguments under these laws. For example, in Pennsylvania, you can raise an “ineffective assistance of counsel” argument. This means that you can argue that your attorney made mistakes or decisions that caused your conviction.
A common “ineffective assistance of counsel” argument in these petitions focuses on an attorney’s advice to plead guilty. The decision whether to plead guilty is always up to you, the client. But, in many cases, attorneys may believe it to be the best decision. If they improperly pressured you to plead guilty or gave you wrong information to get you to plead guilty, a petition can address that.
You can also file a petition under this law if there have been changes in laws that impact your case. It could be that the statute prosecutors used to convict you is now unconstitutional.
A final example focuses on newly discovered evidence. If you have found new evidence that would change the outcome of your trial, a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act can help. This is true even if you pleaded guilty.
Are there strict deadlines for post-conviction relief?
Yes. As indicated above, you need to understand the specific information for the Post Conviction Relief Act in your state. Information about one state’s law may not do you any good in your own state. And all states’ laws include some sort of deadline.
For example, in Pennsylvania, there used to be a clear-cut deadline for filing a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act based on newly discovered evidence. You had 60 days from the date you discovered the new evidence to file. A 2018 change to the law extended that deadline to allow you to file within a reasonable time.
Again, this is just for newly discovered evidence in Pennsylvania. Different rules apply in different states and for different arguments. How to Justice cannot address all of the possibilities here. But nonprofits and low-cost attorneys in your state should be able to help.
If you’ve heard about the Post Conviction Relief Act, you likely heard about a law in your or another state. These laws allow you to challenge your conviction—even if you lost on appeal. There are specific requirements for every state, so you need to research your own state’s law. A nonprofit or low-cost attorney in your state can help.