Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)

The Post-Conviction Relief Act provides criminal defendants with a limited right to collateral review of their conviction while they are in custody, on probation or on parole. The custody provision is subtle but important because it limits this relief preventing challenges of non-custodial punishment such as fines and sex offender registration. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 977 A.2d 1174 (2009)(stating "[w]e hold that an appellant who is required to submit to the reporting requirements of Section 9795.1 of Megan's Law II, but has also completed a sentence of imprisonment and/or probation, is not eligible for relief under PCRA Section 9543(a)(1)(i)."). A PCRA begins in the Court of Common Pleas and can then be reviewed in the appellate courts. The time limit is one (1) year from the final judgment of direct appeal. This time limit is strict with narrow statutory exceptions.

Furthermore, defendants can pursue federal review of their Pennsylvania conviction. This is performed by filing a Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal district court. However, this right is only available when there is no right to relief within a PCRA.