By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 16
Last week, I explained the general structure of the appellate system in Pennsylvania and stated that in criminal cases the appeals from the Court of Common Pleas are handled by the Superior Court.
This week we will begin to get into the basic procedure for appeals to the Superior Court.
Generally speaking, the majority of appeals in criminal cases are filed by defendants after being sentenced. Following sentencing, the defendant has two options: first, he/she can file a post-sentence motion with the Court of Common Pleas and the judge has 120 days to have a hearing and make a decision on such motion.
The other option is to file a notice of appeal to the Superior Court within 30 days of sentencing or within 30 days after a decision on the post-sentence motions, whichever the defendant and his/her attorney believe is best for their arguments.
Once a notice of appeal has been filed, the appellant (the person that is asking to appeal) will set forth the ‘questions presented’, which is a statement of the issues being raised before the Superior Court.
After those questions have been submitted, the Court of Common Pleas judge has to write an opinion as to the legal and factual reasons behind his/her decision on those specific issues.
This gives the judge a chance to explain himself/herself to the Superior Court, which is important because the Common Pleas judge was present for all of the proceedings and able to see and hear everything.
On the other hand, the Superior Court judges only have a transcript and other legal documents to read.
The next step is that the Superior Court sets a briefing schedule. The appellant is given a specific date that he/she has to have a brief submitted to the Superior Court, and the appellee (the responding party, which is usually the Commonwealth in criminal cases) will have 30 days after that to file its brief.
These briefs of the parties are anything but ‘brief’ because they are usually 20-40 pages or more.
We have now submitted the briefs in an appellate case, and next week I will discuss arguing a case before the Superior Court.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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