In Pennsylvania, the court system is structured like a pyramid. At the top is the Supreme Court with seven justices. The next level consists of the Superior Court and Commonwealth Court, followed by the Common Pleas Court. On the bottom of the pyramid you will find the Magisterial District Courts, Pittsburgh Municipal Courts, Philadelphia Municipal Courts, and Philadelphia Traffic Courts.
For this article, we are going to take a closer look at the two appellate courts in the Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System:
The appellate courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania play a critical role in the state’s criminal justice system.
Any individual convicted of a crime has the right to a direct appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. This allows the convicted to contest any errors that may have been committed by the trial court judge.
What exactly is a direct appeal?
Those who are uninformed as to how the law works in the state often believe that this is an opportunity to re-litigate. However, this is not the case. Instead, a direct appeal is nothing more than a request for a thorough review of the record for legal error.
Is a review guaranteed?
Although a defendant has the right to appeal a conviction, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will grant a review. This is discretionary, with a limited number of Petitions for Allocatur being granted each year. You need a strong case, helped out by an experienced attorney, to better your chances of a review.
Any legal ruling by a trial court judge is subject to appellate review. This includes rulings on pre-trial matters including but not limited to suppression motions, motions concerning the admissibility of evidence, and identification.
All trial rulings, if preserved with a proper objection, may be subject to review including the admissibility of hearsay testimony, scope of examination, impeachment and prosecutorial misconduct.
An appeal to the Superior Court (one of two appellate courts mentioned above) is typically related to final decisions of the Court of Common Pleas. In Pennsylvania (since the state is not divided into appellate territories) a three judge panel is responsible for hearing appeals. Although the court is based in Harrisburg, they hear appeals in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as well.
If you believe your case has the grounds for an appeal, contact a professional criminal defense lawyer at PKN Law for a free consultation.