Currently, Pennsylvania has one of the toughest policies dictating when defendants can file post-conviction appeals – those based on non-DNA evidence must be filed within 60 days of the evidence’s discovery.
Now, though, there’s hope that this deadline will be extended or even eliminated altogether. Late last week, State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that he plans to introduce legislation that will eliminate the 60-day rule. “I don’t want to run the risk that someone who’s innocent remains in jail,” Greenleaf said.
The 60-day rule has been widely criticized because, due to the complexity of criminal appeals, this limit often doesn’t allow attorneys enough time to put together a case. In addition, the rule has been interpreted by the courts to mean that a separate petition has to be filed for each new piece of evidence, which overloads judicial calendars and may deter attorneys from taking wrongful conviction cases. As we wrote about last month, innocent people like Terrance Lewis are in prison simply because the proper paperwork wasn’t filed in time. The 60-day rule is a particularly harsh procedural barrier that has kept many inmates from presenting new evidence that could prove their innocence.
Greenleaf has also found an ally in Edward M. Marsico, Jr, Dauphin County DA and President of the State District Attorneys’ Association, who said he was “interested in working” with Greenleaf to help draft the legislation.