Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Demetra P. Mehta, Esquire recently won a new trial for her client in the case of Commonwealth v. C.F.
C.F. had been sentenced to 10 to 20 years of incarceration following a jury trial for gun possession charges. However he will now be given a new trial following a successful challenge of his conviction through the Post-Conviction Relief Act.
PENNSYLVANIA’S POST-CONVICTION RELIEF ACT
Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act allows petitioners to challenge their conviction for a number of reasons. Generally, PCRAs take place at the conclusion of a direct appeal if the direct appeal has been unsuccessful and addresses trial counsel’s ineffective assistance. Petitioners may also use the PCRA when the law has changed retroactively, for the discovery of new evidence which would have changed the outcome at trial or the decision to enter into a plea deal, and to test DNA evidence that was previously untested. The rules governing the PCRA are not simple, the statute is complicated and there are a number of procedural hurdles that often condemn a petition to failure with no regard as to the merits of the claim.
In this case, C.F. had gone to trial on a gun possession charge while represented by different counsel. The facts at trial were as follows:
While at home, he and his wife got into an argument that was loud enough that it attracted the attention of neighbors. A neighbor actually came over to the house to investigate and would later testify that she saw C.F. with a gun. Once the fight was over, C.F. left his home and was confronted by the police a short time later out in the street.
At trial, the neighbor testified that she had seen C.F. with a firearm. This witness also had her own Federal drug possession case at the time of C.F.’s arrest, but it had been resolved by time of trial. A gun had been recovered in the general area at the time of C.F.’s arrest, but there was no forensic evidence to link C.F. to that firearm.
C.F.’s wife testified that C.F. did not have a gun the day of their argument and his arrest. There was an additional witness that was not called because the trial attorney did not reach out to that witness. This witness was also present on the day of the argument, but between C.F.’s arrest and trial, the witness had joined the military and was out of the state of Pennsylvania.
C.F.’s trial attorney testified at the PCRA hearing that he did not subpoena this witness because he did not think she could come to court because she was out of state and in the military. At that same hearing, the witness testified that she had made her command aware of the situation and only needed a subpoena to get leave to come to the trial.
In its ruling, the PCRA court concluded that the witness was available and credible and, had she been subpoenaed, that her testimony may have changed the course of the trial. The court additionally ruled that the trial attorney had been ineffective for not subpoenaing the witness.
PCRAs are highly technically and require an experienced attorney who will look at the record and put forward your best chance to overturn a conviction. To do, this you need someone who has filed PCRAs in the past and had success with them.
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