Commonwealth v. Silvonek

Jamie Silvonek was 14 years old when her 20-year-old boyfriend killed her mother. Jamie was charged in adult court for her involvement in the murder, and the court denied her request to be transferred to juvenile court. Jamie ultimately accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 35 years to life. 

Juvenile Law Center and law firm Holland & Knight filed a petition for post-conviction relief on Jamie’s behalf in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, arguing that Jamie’s prior counsel failed to represent her effectively during her decertification proceeding. Among other failures, Jamie’s prior counsel failed to investigate, develop, or present to the court the substantial evidence demonstrating that Jamie was highly amenable to treatment in the juvenile system, including evidence of the emotionally and physically abusive nature of her relationship. The petition further argued that Jamie’s guilty plea was not knowing or voluntary due to her prior counsel’s errors during the guilty plea and sentencing process, including his active inclusion of the trial judge in plea negotiation despite well-established Pennsylvania law prohibiting such conduct. Additionally, we argued that Jamie’s prior counsel failed to effectively raise crucial evidentiary challenges. Juvenile Law Center and Holland & Knight subsequently filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief incorporating additional factual material. 

Juvenile Law Center and Holland & Knight additionally filed a motion requesting that the PCRA court judge recuse herself, as she had previously presided over Jamie’s decertification and trial court action and had been improperly involved in plea negotiations. The motion was denied by the judge in question. Juvenile Law Center and Holland & Knight appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and subsequently to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but both petitions for review were denied. The judge in question retired prior to the conclusion of Jamie’s PCRA proceeding. 

The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas denied Jamie’s petition for post-conviction relief, finding no merit to her claims. 

Juvenile Law Center and Holland & Knight appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, reiterating our argument that Jamie’s plea was not knowing and voluntary and that her prior counsel’s representation was ineffective. We emphasized the many reasons that the PCRA court’s finding that Jamie’s representation was effective is legally flawed and not supported by the record.