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Post-Conviction Relief

Post-conviction relief is a legal option available to a defendant after a verdict has been delivered. This avenue allows the defendant to present fresh evidence or raise new arguments in court. If you have solid evidence or new arguments to support your case, pursuing post-conviction relief could be a viable option for you. Our team of lawyers at Phoenix Criminal Attorney is ready to assist you with your case.

An Overview of Post-Conviction Relief

A court can grant post-conviction relief to people who have been previously found guilty of an offense. Post-conviction relief (PCR) is intended to allow convicted parties to bring up matters that remained unanswered or unavailable throughout their guilty plea, trial, or punishment. These issues should demonstrate how the conviction or sentencing goes against the principles of basic justice, which is important for fairness. The typical forms of relief given are sentencing hearings or a fresh trial.

The Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure provide detailed guidelines on the kinds of concerns you could raise as well as the necessary steps to request post-conviction remedies.

  • Rule 32 governs the filing of post-conviction relief appeals after being sentenced following a hearing for a probation infringement or facing conviction in a trial.
  • Rule 33 governs post-conviction relief appeals filed after admitting guilt of the crimes, breaking probation terms, or being found in violation of the probation terms.

You have the option to challenge the validity of your sentence or conviction by submitting a post-conviction relief case. However, you should note that these kinds of petitions aren’t intended to serve as second petitions. Any arguments that you may wish to raise in post-trial motions or on a direct appeal are not valid grounds for post-conviction relief. Additionally, it is not permissible to raise similar points that have already been discussed and resolved in any previous appeals of your lawsuit.

Appeals vs. Post-Conviction Relief

Direct appeals and post-conviction relief petitions share the common goal of challenging the validity of a verdict or punishment. Ultimately, both seek a similar outcome:

  • New trial.
  • Sentence hearing.

However, you should note that a direct appeal and the post-conviction remedy procedure are not identical. If you are found guilty through a guilty plea, you are not eligible for an appeal. Only convictions resulting from a trial are eligible for appeal.

Plea agreements can be beneficial as they enable you to admit guilt to a lesser offense and potentially reduce your sentence. However, it's important to note that by entering a guilty plea, you waive your legal right to an appeal.

Post-conviction relief processes resemble direct appeals for defendants who plead guilty, as they don’t have the right to file direct appeals. However, it is important to note that the options for raising objections through post-conviction remedies are more limited compared to a straight appeal.

In Arizona, the Rules of Criminal Procedure, specifically Rules 32, representing trials, and 33, representing guilty pleas, impose restrictions on the types of concerns that can be raised during post-conviction relief hearings.

Only the issues and facts of official court records from guilty pleas, trials, or sentencing hearings are eligible for a direct appeal. However, during post-conviction remedy proceedings, you have the opportunity to raise fresh facts and concerns that were not included in the court file.

Different Types Of PCR Motions

To contest a sentence or conviction, you have the option to submit various motions collectively referred to as post-conviction relief. Each of these movements serves a distinct function. It is crucial to understand which option is best for you and what post-conviction relief entails in your specific circumstance.

Post-conviction relief motions commonly take the following forms:

  • Writ of Habeas Corpus

When an appeal is unsuccessful, defendants often seek a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that their detention is unlawful. Common defenses presented in these cases include inadequate representation by counsel or the availability of new evidence that exonerates the defendant. While judges rarely grant writs of habeas corpus, it is still worth pursuing this avenue.

  • Early Probation Termination

If an Arizona probationer completes half of the probationary period, pays all fines, fulfills court-mandated treatment or seminars, and passes any required drug tests, they may be eligible for early termination of probation. The majority of judges will accept petitions for an early probationary termination as long as the conditions are fulfilled. However, it typically takes the courts three to four months to reach a verdict.

  • Sentence Commutation Motion

If an inmate in an Arizona State Prison believes that their sentence is excessive, they have the option to request a commutation, or reduction, of their sentence. Prisoners must submit their applications through the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). Once received, the Board of Executive Clemency reviews the eligible applications and schedules a hearing date.

  • Set Aside Motion

Records of criminal arrests and convictions cannot be sealed or erased. Instead, individuals have the option to request the court that handled their case to have their conviction "set aside." This means that "set-asides" will be noted next to the criminal case on any future background checks. Court websites usually provide online applications for "set-asides" for convenience.

  • Restoring Civil Rights

Individuals with a single felony conviction under Arizona law are automatically granted probation or an unconditional release from jail. After this, their civil rights (except the right to bear arms) are restored. However, a formal application for Restoration of Civil Rights is required to regain gun rights or other civil rights after two or more felony convictions. If found guilty in a Superior Court, individuals may request an application.

  • Pardon

Convicted individuals can have all fines and disabilities related to their offenses waived through a governor's pardon. The Governor typically grants pardons to individuals who have demonstrated significant improvement and have successfully rebuilt their lives after their conviction. A pardon can restore voting and gun rights, as well as civil rights.

Types of Claims for Post-Conviction Relief

In post-conviction relief petitions under Rule 33 or Rule 32, you may bring the following types of claims:

Inadequate Legal Support

The common requests for post-conviction remedies often involve claims of inadequate legal representation. These claims can encompass the lawyer who represented your case during the trial, plea bargaining, direct appeal, sentencing, or your initial post-conviction redress procedure.

Both the Arizona and the US Constitutions safeguard the right to legal representation for defendants. As a result, if an accused receives inadequate legal representation, any conviction or sentencing would violate both the state and federal constitutions.

To support claims of ineffective legal help, it is necessary to demonstrate the flaws in your attorney's representation. Additionally, you should consider that there’s a good chance your argument would have had a different outcome if your lawyer had not provided subpar representation.

Here are some examples of poor representation that can support a claim of ineffective legal assistance:

  • Failing to consider potential supporting evidence for your argument.
  • Providing you with deceptive, fraudulent, or inaccurate information regarding your case.
  • Not giving you accurate advice regarding the options available to you in the case.
  • Not disclosing the conflict of interests.
  • Failing to retain experts when it is necessary to refute the evidence presented by the prosecution.
  • Overlooking crucial court deadlines and dates.

Unlawful Sentences

This is a situation in which you are given a punishment that isn’t permitted by the plea deal or the law. In 2003, a person claimed to be guilty of 2 counts of attempting to molest a child that took place between the years 1994 through 1996. The defendant received a 10-year jail sentence for the first offense and was placed on lifelong probation for count two.

Recently, the defendant filed a post-conviction relief appeal seeking release from the lifelong probationary sentence. The accused argued that, at the time of the commission of the crime, Arizona law did not allow for lifetime probation.

The higher court refused the defendant's plea, and the courts of appeal rejected the review. However, after agreeing to consider the case, the Arizona Supreme Court determined that the legislation in effect at the time of the defendant's crimes didn’t allow for a lifetime probation sentence for an attempted minor molestation crime.

It is worth noting that after the defendant's offense in 1997, the law was revised to permit a lifetime probation sentence for an attempted minor molestation crime. Hence, the defendant's lifelong probation on count two was deemed unlawful. The Supreme Court overturned the defendant's life on probation and ordered the case to be sent to the high courts for a new sentencing. In 2009, the accused was resentenced and received a five-year probationary term for count two.

New Evidence

At this point, you may discover new proof that could have potentially impacted the verdict in your sentencing or case. This could include fresh mental health diagnoses for disorders that were not previously identified during the trial or punishment, or new DNA evidence.

However, you are only allowed to present new proof if:

  • Despite the presence of evidence during the trial, neither you nor your trial lawyer were able to exercise due diligence in locating and presenting it in court.
  • The evidence only became known after the trial or sentencing took place.
  • To find and present new proof to the court, you or your counsel should have taken due diligence.

The new proof is not only appropriate but also significant to your case. It has the potential to significantly impact the result of the case. You should note that you cannot simply add new details to the existing evidence throughout the trial. Furthermore, it is essential to understand that refuting or undermining a witness's credibility should not be limited to impeachment evidence alone.

However, if an impeachment proof seriously casts mistrust on vital testimony that was crucial to your conviction and could have affected the result of the case, it can be seen as a credible lawsuit of newly found evidence.

For instance, fresh evidence suggesting that the prosecution's main witness deceived the jury about using drugs could provide strong support for a plausible allegation. The combination of drug abuse and dishonesty regarding drug use raises doubts about the witness's memory and observational abilities.

Amendment of the Legislation

This is the pivotal moment when a significant amendment in the statutes, which could potentially impact the matter and overturn the sentence or conviction, takes place. Even in cases where there have been significant changes to the statute, you will only be granted a remedy if the latest legislation can be retroactively applied to your lawsuit. This implies that the latest legislation must cover previous occurrences.

Filing Notice of Post-Conviction Relief

When initiating post-conviction remedy procedures, it is necessary to issue a notice seeking a post-conviction remedy. This notice will outline your background, sentence, and the specific allegations you’re raising concerning either Rule 33 or Rule 32.

  • Due Thirty Days After Appeal Mandate or Ninety Days After Sentencing

You should file a notice demanding post-conviction remedy within ninety days from the date of your sentence or within thirty days from the date an appeal ruling is given, whichever comes first. This notice is for claims alleging constitutional violations, such as ineffective aid of counsel. The appellate court's final ruling is referred to as an appeal mandate.

  • Due Within a Reasonable Amount of Time Upon Discovery

You have a reasonable amount of time from the date you learn of the foundation for your claims to file a notice demanding post-conviction remedy for any additional claims.

  • Not the Defendant's Fault for Being Untimely

You can provide an explanation to the court regarding why you were not at fault for missing the filing deadline. If the court accepts your explanation, it may grant your request for post-conviction relief, regardless of the timing of your notice.

Filing a Post-Conviction Relief Petition

To strengthen your allegations in the appeal for post-conviction relief, it is crucial to substantiate them with legal authorities, facts, and supporting documentation. The objective is to present a compelling case to the judge, showcasing the credibility of your accusations and providing sufficient evidence to support your claims. By doing so, you increase the likelihood of the judge granting an evidentiary hearing, enabling you to provide additional proof and strengthen your position.

  • Due Sixty Days Following Notice Submission

Generally, you have sixty days from the date of notice to submit your petition for post-conviction remedy.

What Are Colorable Claims?

When you pursue post-conviction remedy petitions, the court begins by determining whether you presented a colorable claim. This means that if the claims are accurate, they could have potentially changed the result of the case in question. This includes the following:

  • If you lack any significant allegations, your petition may be dismissed by the court.
  • Having colorable claims entitles you to an evidentiary court hearing.

During evidentiary court hearings, you or your lawyer will submit proof to bolster your claims. It is your responsibility to establish the truthfulness of your colorable claims by presenting a preponderance of evidence.

This isn’t a trial where the burden of proof lies with the prosecution to establish your guilt. In this case, perpetrators are considered innocent until proven guilty, and it is the prosecution's responsibility to provide the burden of proof.

The law assumes that your sentence is enforceable once you have been found guilty. Therefore, you have the burden of providing evidence to support your challenges to the conviction. However, if a constitutional breach is shown, the prosecution must demonstrate that the offense was unintentional.

Unless the matters are complicated or there’s a significant volume of evidence to take into account, the courts typically render a decision on the claims within ten days of the hearing. In either case, the court would either reject your arguments or grant you relief, often in the form of new trials or sentencing hearings.

What Does the Preclusion Rule Mean?

The preclusion rule is a major factor contributing to the complexity of Rule 32 or 33. According to this rule:

  • Rule 32 (or Rule 33) prohibits a defendant from receiving relief on any basis.
  • An issue can continue to be raised in a post-trial motion during the direct appeal process.
  • The determination is based on the merits of the case in any prior collateral procedure or appeal.
  • Relinquished during the trial, the appeal, or any prior collateral action.

In other words, if the Court of Appeals had the authority to decide the problem and you chose not to bring it up, then the problem is no longer an issue. However, if the matter had already been brought before the Court of Appeals and resolved, then it is considered resolved now.

Once the plea deal waives the issue, the matter is considered resolved. While there may be occasional exceptions to this rule due to certain elements that cannot be waived in a plea deal, it generally significantly reduces the scope of potential claims.

Find a Phoenix Criminal Attorney Near Me

To successfully navigate post-conviction issues, consider engaging a criminal defense attorney. At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we offer expert legal support to people dealing with post-conviction issues. We will aim to achieve the best possible outcome for you. Call us at 602-551-8092 to learn more about how we can help you.

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