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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 8, 2016 03:16 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Post-Conviction Relief Act amendment
I will be reintroducing Senate Bill 1261 of last session. Generally a person convicted of a crime has one year from the date of the conviction to file a post conviction relief action challenging the conviction. If the person misses the one-year deadline there are three exceptions to the rule that allow the person to bring a petition despite the expiration of the one-year time limit. The exceptions are that (1) the failure to raise the claim previously was the result of interference by government officials with the presentation of the claim; (2) there is new evidence that was unknown to the person at the time of the trial and could not have been discovered by the exercise of due diligence; and (3) the right asserted is a constitutional right that was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or of Pennsylvania after the one-year time period expired and the court said that the right applied retroactively. In the case of these three exceptions the person has only 60 days to file a petition invoking the exception.

The General Assembly established the 60-day requirement in 1995 during the special session on crime (Act 32) to reduce the number of frivolous petitions filed by inmates. While a laudable goal at the time, after more than two decades of experience, I have come to believe that the 60-day rule is a hurdle that works a hardship on many incarcerated individuals. The 60-day rule is unrealistic because it often takes years to determine whether fragments of new evidence, added together, are enough to construct a solid case. And, given that the persons involved are often incarcerated with no attorney actively working on their case, it makes complying with the rule next to impossible. The one-year rule is more realistic for most claims.

I will be reintroducing legislation amending section 9545 of the Judicial Code to extend the time period to one year for bringing a petition based on one of the exceptions. A person convicted of a crime who several years later becomes aware of new evidence, for example, that quite possibly would have changed the outcome of his trial would have one year from the discovery of the new evidence to file the petition.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported this bill out of committee during the last session. Please join me in cosponsoring this legislation.

Introduced as SB915