Criminal PCRA Success

Criminal Defense Attorney Steven P. Trialonas has Burglary Sentence of 7.5-15 Years Vacated and New Trial Awarded under Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA)

Client was accused of perpetrating a distraction burglary wherein an accomplice preoccupied the homeowner at the front door asking for help with car trouble while the client entered the rear of the house and ran off with a television. Client and the accomplice were promptly charged with Burglary, 18 Pa.C.S.A.§ 3502(a) and Criminal Conspiracy, 18 Pa.C.S.A.§ 901(a)(1), both felonies, as well as two misdemeanors, Theft by Unlawful Taking, 18 Pa.C.S.A.§ 3921(a) and Receiving Stolen Property, 18 Pa.C.S.A.§ 3925(a).

Client took his case to trial though the accomplice was tried separately. At trial the Commonwealth called the accomplice to the stand to testify. The accomplice’s attorney made the assistant district attorney and judge aware she would exercise her rights against self-incrimination if asked any questions related to the burglary. The client’s attorney, however, did not object. The Commonwealth was thus able to call the accomplice in front of the jury and ask about her participation in the burglary, to which she pled the Fifth.

Client was convicted of all counts and sentenced to an aggregate term of 7.5-15 years imprisonment. After direct appeals were exhausted with his first attorney, appellate attorney Steven P. Trialonas filed a Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition raising ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Specifically, attorney Trialonas claimed his client was denied a fair trial when his attorney failed to object to the Commonwealth calling an accomplice to the stand as a witness in front of the jury once they are made aware that witness intends to invoke their privileges guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The logic of this argument is as follows: The jury likely assumed if the witness was worried about incriminating herself she must have done something wrong, and if she did something wrong the defendant also must have done something wrong since they were accomplices. The Court agreed with criminal defense attorney Trialonas and granted the relief requested – throwing out the 7.5-15 year sentence, overturning the convictions, and awarding his client a new trial. A copy of the Opinion is here.