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Even after trials, our work continues. Our job is not just fighting to uphold decisions. It’s to fight for just decisions.  

The Law Division of the District Attorney’s Office handles appeals in various courts, representing the Commonwealth when defendants opt to challenge their criminal convictions. 

Appeals can take years to resolve. They generally result when there’s a finding of a fundamental issue with the way the original trial was managed.

Our role in the appeal process is not to simply defend the trial verdict, but continue the quest for a just and fair outcome for the city, and for everyone involved in the case.

Through the appeal process as outcomes for individual cases are determined, prosecutors can also help shape the law and how it is applied throughout Pennsylvania.

The entire unit team does the difficult work required to ensure all convictions are lawful, correct and afforded every opportunity for review.

The Law Division is led by Nancy Winkelman, a former civil appellate attorney with 29 years experience working outside the criminal justice system, and Paul George, a former defense attorney who is extremely well-versed in criminal law and procedure in Philadelphia.

The ADAs, paralegals and support staff that make up this division are dedicated to a fair, individual review of all cases at each step of the process. 

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“Increased transparency leads to lots more litigation. As a result, we now have 10,000 Post Conviction Relief Act petitions pending and it is our intent to get to all of them.”

NANCY WINKELMAN
Supervisor
Law Division

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UNIT TEAM LEADERSHIP

Supervisors:
Nancy Winkleman
[email protected]
Paul George
[email protected]
Tracey Kavanagh
[email protected]
Lawrence Goode
[email protected]

 

Post Conviction
Relief Act

The first step in the appeal process for felony defendants convicted in Common Pleas Court takesplace in the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as necessary. 

When the claimed grounds for appeal fall into certain categories covered by the state’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), those cases are first heard in Common Pleas Court. 

Filing a PCRA petition is an option for those convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania still serving out a sentence (whether in prison, on probation or parole) who feel they qualify. With rare exceptions, these petitions must be filed within a year of a defendant’s judgement or the sentence becomes final. 

Our prosecutors represent the Commonwealth in Common Pleas Court by responding to petitions filed under this act. 

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LAW DIVISION: POST CONVICTION RELIEF ACT

Common Appeals for Petitions
The attorneys who handle PCRA appeals conduct evidentiary hearings, examine witnesses, and manage full trials. This work also requires them to conduct legal research to prepare responses to these often highly-technical petitions, preparing and presenting oral arguments before appellate courts. 
Common appeals for PCRA are based in one of the following:
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel. This means the defendant’s lawyer made a mistake so serious that it made a fair outcome in the case impossible. For petitioners, this is a very high bar to meet as the law allows for the fact that lawyers aren’t perfect, and don’t need to be, for there to be a fair outcome. 
  • The imposition of a sentence greater than the lawful maximum. State law provides guidelines to judges dictating a range of acceptable punishments for those who either plead guilty to a crime or are found guilty.
    This sentencing matrix covers all felonies and misdemeanors, and takes into account other circumstances, such as if a gun was involved in the crime or if the defendant has prior convictions.
    If someone receives a sentence outside of these guidelines, the PCRA allows them to file a claim that the sentence is illegal.
  • New evidence. After a conviction, new evidence may come to light which could change the outcome of the case. In petitions like these, the major focus is whether the new evidence really would have made a difference in the case. The evidence cannot be similar to other evidence already presented at trial, and it cannot be used solely to impeach the credibility of a witness.

Federal Litigation Unit 

The Court of Common Pleas, where most felony cases in Philadelphia are heard, is part of the Pennsylvania court system, which means defendants are convicted according to Pennsylvania laws. So when there’s an appeal, they are typically made to the Pennsylvania Superior Court or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In certain cases, people convicted in Pennsylvania courts who pursued all their appeal options within the Commonwealth can appeal to the federal court system. 

When this happens, the attorneys of the Federal Litigation Unit—all of whom have a deep understanding of U.S. Constitutional law and federal appellate procedure—represent the Commonwealth in federal District Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. The most common form of these federal appeals are known as “habeas corpus” petitions. They offer those convicted in Pennsylvania courts the opportunity to claim their rights under federal law and argue their case before a federal court.

LAW DIVISION: FEDERAL LITIGATION UNIT

Conditions to File a Habeas Corpus Petition in Federal Court
  • You must be a duly convicted prisoner serving time in a Pennsylvania prison.
  • You must have exhausted all other appeal options.
  • It must be your first petition (with limited exceptions).
  • It must be within 180 days of the final decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
  • It must only challenge convictions for a single matter, not multiple convictions that arose from different cases.
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“We have been hurt, more than any other city in the nation, by the scourge of opioids. Big Pharma owes a lot to our city. We are suing to make them pay and to fund treatment and services for the harm opioids have caused.”

LARRY KRASNER
District Attorney
City of Philadelphia

Civil Litigation Unit 

The Civil Litigation Unit is expanding its affirmative litigation related to new policies of this administration.

We represent the District Attorney’s Office in civil lawsuits in state and federal courts, including those against ten different pharmaceutical companies, as the lead plaintiff for deceptive marketing of opioid products. 

This case marks the first of its kind filed by a district attorney under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection laws. This is a part of our Office’s broader effort to use civil litigation as a strategy to address systemic issues like the opioid crisis. 

The members of this unit also draft contracts, respond to discovery and right-to-know-law requests, and advise on DATA Lab research, as well as human resources issues for the Office.