Could post-conviction collateral relief release a sexual predator from prison early?
September 17, 2012 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Pennsylvania criminal law filter: How does post-conviction collateral relief work, and how often does it result in dismissed charges? Details of one particular case inside...

A convicted "sexually violent predator" in Pennsylvania has applied for post-conviction collateral relief on one of two charges he pled guilty to in 2012.

As he'd been convicted at least three times for molesting children he received the most severe designation a child predator could receive. As a "sexually violent predator" he will need to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life in the United States.

The charge he's seeking post-conviction collateral relief is from 1999. He was only convicted in 2010 after another pre-teen girl, 10 years later, accused him of also molesting her, which he also pled guilty to.

In 1995 he also pled guilty to indecent assault with yet another young girl.

Details of his case can be found here.

Court records specifying his request for post-conviction collateral relief here.

I want to know if any lawyers in the house can shed any details on how this works, and what the general success rate is for these procedures? Could this overturn his sexually violent predator designation? Are there other ramifications?
posted by Unsomnambulist to Law & Government (7 answers total)
I can't be much help. However, I can suggest that if you, a friend, or loved one is personally interested in this proceeding as someone who has been exposed to this man's crimes, you can likely contact the prosecutor's office that is handling the case and/or a Pennsylvania Crime Victims Agency for more information about the criminal justice system and other services.

Even if you don't have any connection to the case, his petition for relief must take the form of some kind of court document that lays out his argument for why he is entitled to such relief. If you contact the clerk's office at the court, you should be able to obtain a copy of his petition, and you can read for yourself just what he is asking for and why.
posted by zachlipton at 8:16 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Post-conviction collateral relief is generally called habeas corpus; you can read about the general statistics here. If you want to google for more information, you should try using the term habeas corpus.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:18 PM on September 17, 2012

I think there may be some confusion about terminology.

Post-conviction collateral relief refers to the restoration of rights that a convicted felon has lost. For example, in many states the right to vote, own a firearm, have a professional license.

So a person who has completed his sentence and is no longer on parole may apply to have some or all of those rights reinstated.

You can read about the process generally here and in Pennsylvania here [pdf].
posted by mlis at 8:37 PM on September 17, 2012

Yes - confusion about terminology for sure. In my experience, the term post-conviction collateral relief usually refers to habeas corpus, which is sort of like another appeal - which could result in a new trial, the conviction being overturned, or the conviction standing.

mlis is talking about relief from the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, as explained above.

Since the OP's first link says this person is not going to be released until 2015 at the earliest, it seems that he wouldn't be eligible for relief from the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction; so I think that this is a habeas corpus petition we're talking about.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:01 PM on September 17, 2012

Ah, thanks, insectosaurus.
posted by mlis at 9:02 PM on September 17, 2012

Here's the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act, which defines collateral relief under Pennsylvania law. It appears, as insectosaurus says, to refer to habeas corpus and related proceedings for e.g., freeing an innocent person or overturning an illegal sentence.
posted by decathecting at 9:05 PM on September 17, 2012

The bar for getting a guilty plea overturned is pretty damn high.
"Post-conviction relief, like its close relative habeas corpus, is different from an appeal. A defendant typically pursues it after the defendant has exhausted his or her direct appeals. Because there needs to be an end to the process of criminal prosecution, the opportunity to pursue post-conviction relief is limited, and the issues that a defendant may pursue in a post-conviction relief petition or motion are likewise limited." (I stole that from the opening chapter of a 50 state survey on DNA related post conviction relief).

Here's the PA Statutes related to post conviction relief.
Here's the PA Code related to post conviction relief
Also, understanding that the process will look slightly different, Oregon has this very nice handout for victims explaining the process of post conviction relief. Even though it's a different state, I think the simple language an general sketch is helpful.
To your question of statistics, the best I could find was a 2003 Duquesne Law Review article (DISPATCH AND DELAY: POST CONVICTION RELIEF ACT LITIGATION IN NON-CAPITAL CASES) from 2003 says about 2% of the challenges in Allegheny, Philadelphia, Delaware counties were successful. (memail me if you want a copy-I can't find it unpaywalled).
posted by atomicstone at 9:13 PM on September 17, 2012

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