Criminal Defense

What Is a ‘Writ Of Habeas Corpus’ in Criminal Law?

September 17, 2022 by Mikel Rastegar in Criminal Defense  
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Writ Of Habeas Corpus

Habeas corpus has English common law foundations. The mechanism allows prisoners or others to protest their lawful imprisonment. A writ of habeas corpus (which means “produce the body”) is a court order requiring a public officer (such as a warden) to bring an imprisoned person before the court and justify their confinement. During a court hearing, the detainee and the government may provide evidence concerning the person’s legal detention. The court may also issue subpoenas to collect further evidence.

The judge may award the prisoner remedies such as:

Habeas corpus and direct appeal are different. Defendants may appeal a conviction or sentence to a higher court, which evaluates the trial judge’s findings. Habeas corpus challenges incarceration if a direct appeal fails. It’s a final recourse for convicts who claim a judicial miscarriage.

1. Federal Habeas Corpus Process

Federal Habeas Corpus is difficult. Due to more stages and tougher deadlines, you’ll need post-conviction counsel. A Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus cannot be presented before all state appeals are exhausted. Anyone seeking a Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus in California must first appeal to the state’s Court of Appeals. If that failed, they asked the California Supreme Court for certiorari. The Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus adds complexity to the post-conviction appeal procedure.

2. California “Writ of Habeas Corpus”

The courts hear habeas corpus petitions, but the procedure differs from criminal cases. Therefore, you need a lawyer who understands California prisoner rights and habeas corpus. In California:

  • You must petition for aid.
  • The judge determines whether to grant the petition.
  • The jail official sends a “return” as their petition response.
  • You “traverse” the jail official’s response.
  • The court performs a hearing if facts are in dispute.
  • If no facts are disputed, the court determines solely on the documents.

Who is Eligible?

Prisoners or defendants in California can only file a writ of habeas corpus if their case meets the following requirements:

  • The petitioner must be in jail, on probation, parole, or bail, or free on their recognizance while facing criminal charges;
  • All other legal ways to solve the problem, like appeals and motions, must have been tried and failed. Habeas corpus is a last-ditch effort;
  • For someone to challenge their detention, they must have “new” reasons that haven’t already been used in other appeals.

How Long Do You Have to File Habeas Corpus in California?

A petition for habeas corpus filed by a state prisoner does not have to comply with any “set legislative timeframes. Instead, petitioners in the Golden State are urged to submit known claims as early as circumstances allow. Petitioners must specify when they first became aware of the allegations made in the Writ of Habeas Corpus. It is up to the petitioner to prove that there was no “substantial delay.” When determining whether there was a substantial delay, the clock starts ticking from the moment the petitioner or counsel realized, or should have known, that the evidence presented was sufficient to warrant proceeding with the claim.

If the petition is filed with a “substantial delay,” the petitioner must provide a “good reason” for the delay. Good cause is usually defined as an active inquiry into additional claims that might be included in the Writ of Habeas Corpus. In most cases, “good reason” does not include willful ignorance.

The court may nevertheless review a Writ of Habeas Corpus in four restricted situations when there was a “substantial delay” in submitting the Writ, and the petitioner did not have “good reason” for the delay:

  • The mistake was of “constitutional gravity,” meaning that a reasonable judge or jury would not have convicted the petitioner in their absence;
  • The petitioner is blameless;
  • The sentence was imposed, and a fair judge or jury would not have chosen that course of action in the absence of the mistake;
  • A statutory loophole rendered the conviction null and void.

Related Article: What is a ‘Cruz Waiver’ in Criminal Law?

Habeas Corpus Grounds

Because habeas corpus is an “extraordinary remedy,” it’s not accessible to all California convicted felons. Certain concerns may be grounds for a habeas corpus petition in your case. Some factors leading to habeas corpus petitions in California are:

  • You were convicted under unconstitutional legislation.
  • You didn’t have a qualified lawyer at trial or appeal.
  • Your prosecutor participated in illegal activities.
  • You were incompetent at trial.
  • New evidence – After the trial and appeals, new evidence was uncovered that either confirms your innocence or would have affected the trial’s decision if provided at that time.
  • The court lacked jurisdiction over the defendant.
  • Law changes – You were guilty of the crime at your trial, but today you’re innocent.
  • You want to dispute your jail circumstances.

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