I represented a Centre County client in a Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) in which two prior defense attorneys had failed to file documents in a timely manner and thereby prevented the courts from considering the client's appellate arguments. When filing a PCRA petition, the defense lawyer generally claims that the some or all of the client's former criminal defense attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel, and the former defense lawyers' failures violated the client's constitutional right to have competent counsel.
In the case, the client's State College appellate lawyer failed to file court paperwork by a specified deadline, and the Superior Court found that all the issues had been waived and thereby denied the appeal. The client then hired a Blair County criminal defense attorney to file a PCRA petition, but the original PCRA attorney failed to file the PCRA in a timely manner. The original PCRA petition was filed with the Centre County court two years after the required deadline, and the court denied the PCRA based upon its untimely filing. After the client became aware that the Superior Court had dismissed his appeal, the client retained me to provide representation.
Centre County Judge Ruled Prior Attorneys Were Ineffective
While a normal person would think that it would be easy for my client to win his PCRA claim as two prior defense attorneys had simply failed to file documents in a timely manner, and the prior defense attorneys' failures to timely file appellate documents basically eliminated the client's ability to have his appeal considered. Common sense would generally dictate that the client should have his day in court, but the criminal justice system runs on rules and procedures that do not always make sense. Ultimately, a Centre County judge accepted my argument that the client had been abaondoned by his PCRA attorney and my second PCRA petition was filed in accordance with the rules. The judge granted my request and reinstated my client's appellate rights.
To be clear, the judge didn't overturn the conviction, the judge's role was solely to determine whether the prior attorneys had been ineffective, and, if so, to allow my client to pursue his appeal. By winning the PCRA matter, the client simply was given the chance to actually litigate his case.
Centre County Justice System is Not Always Fair and Just
In my opinion, granting the client's PCRA petition would have been the fair and just thing to do because he had been prevented from having his appeals considered due to errors committed by his prior criminal defense attorneys. Despite what appears fair and just on its face, the Centre County District Attorney's Office appealed the Centre County judge's decision in the case and argued against the client having his day in court. I fully understand that the criminal justice system is adversarial, meaning the prosecution and defense lawyers are going to fight, but I also think that the role of the district attorney is to seek justice. Here, both the Centre County judge and the Superior Court accepted my argument and gave the client his day in court. The Superior Court gave the client his day in court, considered and then denied his appeal, but I did my job to get the client's appellate rights reinstated.
If you are forced to hire an attorney, I recommend spending some time researching attorneys in your area. Many State College criminal defense lawyers have good websites because we hire the same marketing firms, but some attorneys have obviously spent more time providing detailed information that prospective clients want to see. I also recommend that you review client and peer reviews for attorneys. Before buying an electronics or appliances, I check the web for reviews of those items. I am very fortunate that many of my former clients have provided positive feedback and client testimonials, but most State College attorneys do not have such reviews.