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Habeas corpus ( ) (Latin: You (shall) have the body) is a legal action, or writ, through which a person can seek relief from their unlawful detention or that of another person. It protects individuals from harming themselves or from being harmed by the judicial system. Of Englishmarker origin, the writ of habeas corpus has historically been an important instrument for the safeguarding of individual freedom against arbitrary state action.

A writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, also known as "The Great Writ", is a summons with the force of a court order addressed to the custodian (such as a prison official) demanding that a prisoner be brought before the court, together with proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether that custodian has lawful authority to hold that person; if not, the person shall be released from custody. The prisoner, or another person on his behalf (for example, where the prisoner is being held incommunicado), may petition the court or an individual judge for a writ of habeas corpus.

The right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus has long been celebrated as the most efficient safeguard of the liberty of the subject. The British jurist Albert Venn Dicey wrote that the Habeas Corpus Acts "declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty." In most countries, however, the procedure of habeas corpus can be suspended in time of national emergency. In most civil law jurisdictions, comparable provisions exist, but they may not be called "habeas corpus." The reach of habeas corpus is currently being tested in the United States. Oral arguments on a consolidated Guantanamo Bay detention campmarker detainee habeas corpus petition, Al Odah v. United States were heard by the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker on December 5, 2007. On June 12, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Boumediene v. Bush recognized habeas corpus rights for the Guantanamo prisoners. On October 7, 2008, the first Guantanamo prisoners were ordered released by a court considering a habeas corpus petition.

The writ of habeas corpus is one of what are called the "extraordinary", "common law", or "prerogative writs", which were historically issued by the courts in the name of the monarch to control inferior courts and public authorities within the kingdom. The most common of the other such prerogative writs are quo warranto, prohibito, mandamus, procedendo, and certiorari. When the original 13 American Colonies declared independence and became a constitutional republic in which the people are the sovereign, any person, in the name of the people, acquired authority to initiate such writs.

The due process for such petitions is not simply civil or criminal, because they incorporate the presumption of nonauthority. The official who is the respondent has the burden to prove his authority to do or not do something. Failing this, the court must decide for the petitioner, who may be any person, not just an interested party. This differs from a motion in a civil process in which the movant must have standing, and bears the burden of proof.

Derivation and form

The right of habeas corpus is referred to in full in legal texts as habeas corpus ad subjiciendum or more rarely ad subjiciendum et recipiendum. The name derives from the operative words of the writ in Medieval Latin:

The word habeas in the writ is not in the indicative mood ("You have ..."), but in the subjunctive (specifically the volitive subjunctive): "We command that you have ...". The full name of the writ is often used to distinguish it from similar ancient writs:

  • Habeas corpus ad deliberandum et recipiendum, a writ for bringing an accused from a different county into a court in the place where a crime had been committed for purposes of trial, or more literally to return holding the body for purposes of “deliberation and receipt” of a decision;
  • Habeas corpus ad faciendum et recipiendum, also called habeas corpus cum causa, a writ of a superior court to a custodian to return with the body being held by the order of a lower court "with reasons", for the purpose of “receiving” the decision of the superior court and of “doing” what it ordered;
  • Habeas corpus ad prosequendum, a writ ordering return with a prisoner for the purpose of “prosecuting” him before the court;
  • Habeas corpus ad respondendum, a writ ordering return to allow the prisoner to “answer” to new proceedings before the court;
  • Habeas corpus ad satisfaciendum, a writ ordering return with the body of a prisoner for “satisfaction” or execution of a judgment of the issuing court; and
  • Habeas corpus ad testificandum, a writ ordering return with the body of a prisoner for the purposes of “testifying”.

That the basic form of the writs of habeas corpus, now written in English, has changed little over the centuries can be seen from the following examples:

History of habeas corpus in England

The foundations for Habeas Corpus were established by the Magna Carta of 1215. Blackstone cites the first recorded usage of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum in 1305, during the reign of King Edward I. However, other writs were issued with the same effect as early as the reign of Henry II in the 12th century. Blackstone explained the basis of the writ, saying:

The procedure for the issuing of writs of habeas corpus was first codified by the Habeas Corpus Act 1679, following judicial rulings which had restricted the effectiveness of the writ. A previous act had been passed in 1640 to overturn a ruling that the command of the King was a sufficient answer to a petition of habeas corpus.

Then, as now, the writ of habeas corpus was issued by a superior court in the name of the Sovereign, and commanded the addressee (a lower court, sheriff, or private subject) to produce the prisoner before the Royal courts of law. A habeas corpus petition could be made by the prisoner himself or by a third party on his behalf and, as a result of the Habeas Corpus Acts, could be made regardless of whether the court was in session, by presenting the petition to a judge.

Since the 18th century the writ has also been used in cases of unlawful detention by private individuals, most famously in Somersett's Case (1771), where the black slave Somersett was ordered to be freed, the famous words being quoted (or misquoted, see Somersett's Case):

The privilege of habeas corpus has been suspended or restricted several times during English history, most recently during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although internment without trial has been authorised by statute since that time, for example during the two World Wars and the Troubles in Northern Irelandmarker, the procedure of habeas corpus has in modern times always technically remained available to such internees. However, as habeas corpus is only a procedural device to examine the lawfulness of a prisoner's detention, so long as the detention was in accordance with an Act of Parliament, the petition for habeas corpus would be unsuccessful. Since the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998, the courts have been able to declare an Act of Parliament to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. However, such a declaration of incompatibility has no immediate legal effect until it is acted upon by the government.

The wording of the writ of habeas corpus implies that the prisoner is brought to the court for the legality of the imprisonment to be examined. However, rather than issuing the writ immediately and waiting for the return of the writ by the custodian, modern practice in England is for the original application to be followed by a hearing with both parties present to decide the legality of the detention, without any writ being issued. If the detention is held to be unlawful, the prisoner can usually then be released or bailed by order of the court without having to be produced before it. It is also possible for individuals held by the state to petition for judicial review, and individuals held by non-state entities to apply for an injunction.

Scotland's approach

The Parliament of Scotland passed law to have similar effect to Habeas Corpus in 1701, the Act for preventing wrongful imprisonment and against undue delays in trials, now known as the Criminal Procedure Act 1701 c.6 (being the short title given by Statute Law Revision Act 1964). This Act is still in force although certain parts have been repealed.


The writ of habeas corpus as a procedural remedy is part of Australia's English law inheritance.

In 2005, the Australian parliament passed the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005. Some legal experts questioned the constitutionality of the act, due in part to limitations it placed on habeas corpus.


Habeas corpus rights are part of the British Common Law tradition inherited by Canada. They existed in case law before they were enshrined in the Constitution Act 1982, via Section Ten of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

Everyone has the right to on arrest or detention... c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

Suspension of the writ in Canadian history occurred famously during the October Crisis, during which the War Measures Act was invoked by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau at the request of the Quebecmarker and Montrealmarker governments. The Act was also used to justify German, Slavic, and Ukrainian Canadian internment during the First World War, and Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War. Both internments were eventually recognized by acts of parliament as historical wrongs.


In Irelandmarker the principle of habeas corpus is guaranteed by Article 40, Section 4 of the Irish constitution. This guarantees "personal liberty" to each individual and outlines a detailed habeas corpus procedure, without actually mentioning the Latin term. However, it also provides that habeas corpus is not binding on the Defence Forces during a state of war or armed rebellion.

The state inherited habeas corpus as part of the common law when it seceded from the United Kingdommarker in 1922, but the principle was also guaranteed by Article 6 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State in force from 1922 to 1937. A similar provision was included when the current constitution was adopted in 1937. Since that date habeas corpus has been restricted by two constitutional amendments, the Second Amendment in 1941 and the Sixteenth Amendment in 1996.

Before the Second Amendment, an individual detained had the constitutional right to apply to any High Court judge for a writ of habeas corpus and to as many High Court judges as they wished. Since the Second Amendment, a prisoner has a right to apply to only one judge, and, once a writ has been issued, the President of the High Court has authority to choose the judge or panel of three judges who will decide the case. The amendment also added a requirement that when the High Court believed someone's detention to be invalid due to the unconstitutionality of a law, it must refer the matter to the Irish Supreme Court and may release the individual on bail only in the interim.

In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled in the O'Callaghan case that the provisions of the constitution meant that an individual charged with a crime could be refused bail only if they were likely to flee or to interfere with witnesses or evidence. Since the Sixteenth Amendment, it has been possible for a court to take into account whether a person has committed serious crimes while on bail in the past.


The Indian judiciary in a catena of cases has effectively resorted to the writ of habeas corpus only to secure release of a person from illegal detention.

The Indian judiciary has dispensed with the traditional doctrine of locus standi. If a detained person is not in a position to file a petition, it can be moved on his behalf by any other person. The scope of habeas relief has expanded in recent times by actions of the Indian judiciary. The habeas writ was used in the Rajan criminal case.


In Malaysiamarker, the right of habeas corpus, short of the name, is enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Article 5(2) provides that "Where complaint is made to a High Court or any judge thereof that a person is being unlawfully detained the court shall inquire into the complaint and, unless satisfied that the detention is lawful, shall order him to be produced before the court and release him."

As there are several statutes, for example, the Internal Security Act 1960, that still permit detention without trial, the procedure is usually effective in such cases only if it can be shown that there was a procedural error in the way that the detention was ordered.

New Zealand

While habeas corpus is generally used on the government, it can also be used on individuals. In 2006, a child was allegedly kidnapped by his mother's father after a custody dispute. The father filed habeas corpus against the mother, the grandfather, the grandmother, the great grandmother, and another person alleged to have assisted in the kidnap of the child. The mother did not present the child to the court and was imprisoned for contempt of court. She was released when the child's grandfather came forward with him in late January 2007.


In the Bill of Rights in the Filipino Constitution, habeas corpus is listed near-identically to the U.S. Constitution in Article 3, Section 15:

"The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended except in cases of invasion or rebellion when the public safety requires it."

In 1971, after the Plaza Miranda bombing, the Marcos Administration, under Ferdinand Marcos lifted the writ of Habeas Corpus in an effort to stifle the oncoming insurgency, having blamed the CPP for the events of August 21. After widespread protests against this, however, the Marcos Administration decided to bring back the writ. Many consider this to be a prelude to Martial Law.


An act similar to Habeas corpus was adopted in Poland as early as in 1430. Neminem captivabimus, short for , (Latin, "We shall not arrest anyone without a court verdict") was one of the basic rights in Polandmarker and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, stating that the king can neither punish nor imprison any member of the szlachta without a viable court verdict. Its purpose is to release someone who has been arrested unlawfully. Neminem captivabimus has nothing to do with whether the prisoner is guilty, only with whether due process has been observed.


The Constitution of Portugal states that Habeas corpus shall be available to counter the misuse of power in the form of illegal arrest, imprisonment or detention. According to the Portuguese Penal Process Code, the application for it shall be made to the judge conducting the preliminary investigations or to the Portuguese Supreme Court of Justice.

The reasons that may justify an habeas corpus are: exceeded the period to deliver the detainee to judicial power; exceeded the detention period stated by law or judicial decision; detention outside the legally allowed places; detention ordered by an incompetent authority; and detention motivated for fact for which the law does not allow detention.


In 1526 the Fuero Nuevo of Señorío de Vizcaya establishes the hábeas corpus in its territory.The present Spanish Constitution states that A habeas corpus procedure shall be provided for by law to ensure the immediate handing over to the judicial authorities of any person illegally arrested. The law which regulates the procedure is the Law of Habeas Corpus of 24 May 1984 which provides that a person imprisoned may, on his own or through a third person, allege his Habeas Corpus right and request to appear before a judge. The request must specify the grounds on which the detention is considered to be unlawful which can be, for example, that the imprisoner does not have the legal authority, or that the prisoner's constitutional rights were violated or that he was subject to mistreatment, etc. The judge may then request additional information if needed and may issue an Habeas Corpus order at which point the holding authority has 24 hours to bring the prisoner before the judge.

United States

The United States Constitution specifically included the English common law procedure in the Suspension Clause, located in Article One, Section 9. It states:

The writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is a civil, not criminal, ex parte proceeding in which a court inquires as to the legitimacy of a prisoner's custody. Typically, habeas corpus proceedings are to determine whether the court which imposed sentence on the defendant had jurisdiction and authority to do so, or whether the defendant's sentence has expired. Habeas corpus is also used as a legal avenue to challenge other types of custody such as pretrial detention or detention by the United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement pursuant to a deportation proceeding.


The writ of Habeas Corpus was originally understood to apply only to those held in custody by officials of the Executive Branch of the federal government and not to those held by state governments, which independently afford habeas corpus pursuant to their respective constitutions and laws. The United States Congress granted all federal courts jurisdiction under to issue writs of habeas corpus to release prisoners held by any government entity within the country from custody in the following circumstances:

*Is in custody under or by color of the authority of the United States or is committed for trial before some court thereof; or
*Is in custody for an act done or omitted in pursuance of an Act of Congress, or an order, process, judgment or decree of a court or judge of the United States; or
*Is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States; or
*Being a citizen of a foreign state and domiciled therein is in custody for an act done or omitted under any alleged right, title, authority, privilege, protection, or exemption claimed under the commission, order or sanction of any foreign state, or under color thereof, the validity and effect of which depend upon the law of nations; or
*It is necessary to bring said persons into court to testify or for trial.

In the 1950s and 1960s, decisions by the Warren Supreme Courtmarker greatly expanded the use and scope of the federal writ, and the most publicized use of the writ of Habeas corpus in modern times has been to allow federal courts to review death penalty proceedings; however, far more non-capital habeas petitions are reviewed by the federal courts. In the last thirty years, decisions by the Burger and Rehnquist Courts have somewhat narrowed the writ, though the number of habeas petitions filed has continued to rise.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 further limited the use of the federal writ by imposing a one-year statute of limitations and dramatically increasing the federal judiciary's deference to decisions previously made in state court proceedings either on direct appeal from the conviction and sentence, or in a state court habeas corpus action and the associated second round of state appeal (both of which, in the usual case, occur before a federal habeas petition is filed).

Suspension during the Civil War and Reconstruction

On April 27, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in Marylandmarker and parts of Midwestern states.

In the early 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant suspended habeas corpus in nine counties in South Carolina, as part of federal civil rights action against the Ku Klux Klan under the 1870 Force Act and 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act.

Suspension during World War II and its aftermath

In 1942, the Supreme Courtmarker ruled in Ex parte Quirin that unlawful combatant saboteurs could be denied habeas corpus and tried by military commission, making a distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants. The writ was suspended in Hawaii during World War II, pursuant to a section of the Hawaiian Organic Act, when martial law was declared in Hawaii in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The period of martial law in Hawaii ended in October 1944, Duncan v. Kahanamoku, 327 U.S. 304 (1946), held that assuming that the initial imposition of martial law in December 1941 was lawful due to the Pearl Harbor attack and threat of imminent invasion, because by 1944 the imminent threat had receded and civilian courts could again function in Hawaii, the Organic Act did not authorize the military to continue to keep civilian courts closed.

The 1950 case Johnson v. Eisentrager denied access to habeas corpus for nonresident aliens captured and imprisoned abroad in a US-administered foreign court.

Domestic terrorism and AEDPA

In 1996, following the Oklahoma City bombingmarker, Congress passed (91–8–1 in the Senate, 293–133–7 in the House) and President Clinton signed into law the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The AEDPA was to "deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes."

The AEDPA contained one of the few limitations on habeas corpus. For the first time, its Section 101 set a statute of limitations of one year following conviction for prisoners to seek the writ. It limits the power of federal judges to grant relief unless the state court's adjudication of the claim resulted in a decision that was (1) contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. It generally but not absolutely barred second or successive petitions, with several exceptions. Petitioners who had already filed a federal habeas petition were required first to secure authorization from the appropriate United States Court of Appeals, to ensure that such an exception was at least facially made out.

War on Terror

The November 13, 2001, Presidential Military Order gave the President of the United States the power to detain suspects, suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism as an unlawful combatant. As such, it was asserted that a person could be held indefinitely without charges being filed against him, without a court hearing, and without entitlement to a legal consultant. Many legal and constitutional scholars contended that these provisions were in direct opposition to habeas corpus and the United States Bill of Rights.

In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), the Supreme Courtmarker reaffirmed the right of United States citizens to seek writs of habeas corpus even when declared enemy combatants.

In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), Salim Ahmed Hamdan petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging that the military commission set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantánamo Baymarker “violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions.” In a 5–3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected Congress's attempts to strip the courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at Guantánamo Baymarker. Congress had previously passed the Department of Defensemarker Appropriations Act of 2006 which stated in Section 1005(e), “Procedures for Status Review of Detainees Outside the United States”:

“(1) Except as provided in section 1005 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the Department of Defense at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“(2) The jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on any claims with respect to an alien under this paragraph shall be limited to the consideration of whether the status determination ... was consistent with the standards and procedures specified by the Secretary of Defense for Combatant Status Review Tribunals (including the requirement that the conclusion of the Tribunal be supported by a preponderance of the evidence and allowing a rebuttable presumption in favor of the Government's evidence), and to the extent the Constitution and laws of the United States are applicable, whether the use of such standards and procedures to make the determination is consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

On 29 September 2006, the House and Senate approved the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), a bill that would remove habeas corpus for any person determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant" engaged in hostilities or having supported hostilities against the United States” by a vote of 65–34. (This was the result on the bill to approve the military trials for detainees; an amendment to remove the unavailability of habeas corpus failed 48–51.) President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law on October 17, 2006. The declaration of a person as an "unlawful enemy combatant" is at the discretion of the US executive branch of the administration, and there is no right of appeal, with the result that this potentially eliminates habeas corpus for any non-citizen.

With the MCA's passage, the law altered the language from “alien detained ... at Guantánamo Bay”:

“Except as provided in section 1005 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.” §1005(e)(1), 119 Stat. 2742.

On 20 February 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld this provision of the MCA in a 2–1 decision of the Case Boumediene v. Bush. The Supreme Courtmarker let the Circuit Court's decision stand by refusing to hear the detainees' appeal. On June 29, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its April 2007 decision and agreed to hear the appeals of Guantanamo detainees who are seeking habeas corpus review of their detentions.

Under the MCA, the law restricts habeas appeals for only those aliens detained as "enemy combatants," or awaiting such determination. Left unchanged is the provision that, after such determination is made, it is subject to appeal in U.S. Court, including a review of whether the evidence warrants the determination. If the status is upheld, then their imprisonment is deemed lawful.

There is, however, no legal time limit which would force the government to provide a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) hearing. Prisoners are legally prohibited from petitioning any court for any reason before a CSRT hearing takes place.

On January 17, 2007, Attorney General Gonzales asserted in Senate testimony that while habeas corpus is "one of our most cherished rights," the United States Constitution does not expressly guarantee habeas rights to United States residents or citizens. As such, the law could be extended to U.S. citizens and held if left unchecked.

As Robert Parry writes in the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel:

To date, there has been at least one confirmed case in which non-American civilians have been incorrectly classified as enemy combatants.

On June 7, 2007, the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with an 11–8 vote split along party lines, with all but one Republican voting against it. Although the Act would restore statutory habeas corpus to enemy combatants, it would not overturn the provisions of the AEDPA which set a statute of limitations on habeas corpus claims from ordinary civilian federal and state prisoners.

On June 11, 2007, a federal appeals court ruled that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a legal resident of the United States, could not be detained indefinitely without charge. In a two-to-one ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appealsmarker, the Court held the President of the United States lacks legal authority to detain al-Marri without charge; all three judges ruled that al-Marri is entitled to traditional habeas corpus protections which give him the right to challenge his detainment in a U.S. Court.

On June 12, 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in Boumediene v. Bush that terror suspects detained by the United States in Guantanamo Bay detainment campmarker have the right to seek a writ of habeas corpus in US Federal Court.

In July 2008, the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court rules: "if properly designated an enemy combatant pursuant to the legal authority of the President, such persons may be detained without charge or criminal proceedings for the duration of the relevant hosilities."

On October 7, 2008, US District Court judgeRicardo M. Urbina ruled that 17 Uyghurs, Muslims from China's northwestern Xinjiang region, must be brought to appear in his court in Washington, DC, three days later:"Because the Constitution prohibits indefinite detentions without cause, the continued detention is unlawful."

On January 21, 2009, US President Barack Obama issued an executive order regarding the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and the individuals held there. This order asserted that "[they] have the constitutional privilege of the writ of habeas corpus".

Differences in post-trial actions

Habeas corpus is an action often taken after sentencing by a defendant who seeks relief for some perceived error in his criminal trial. There are a number of such post-trial actions and proceedings, their differences being potentially confusing, thus bearing some explanation. Some of the most common are an appeal to which the defendant has as a right, a writ of certiorari, a writ coram nobis and a writ of habeas corpus.

An appeal to which the defendant has a right cannot be abridged by the court which is, by designation of its jurisdiction, obligated to hear the appeal. In such an appeal, the appellant feels that some error has been made in his trial, necessitating an appeal. A matter of importance is the basis on which such an appeal might be filed: generally appeals as a matter of right may only address issues which were originally raised in trial (as evidenced by documentation in the official record). Any issue not raised in the original trial may not be considered on appeal and will be considered estoppel. A convenient test for whether a petition is likely to succeed on the grounds of error is confirming that (1) a mistake was indeed made (2) an objection to that mistake was presented by counsel and (3) that mistake negatively affected the defendant’s trial.

A writ of certiorari, otherwise known simply as cert, is an order by a higher court directing a lower court to send record of a case for review, and is the next logical step in post-trial procedure. While states may have similar processes, a writ of cert is usually only issued, in the United States, by the Supreme Court, although some states retain this procedure. Unlike the aforementioned appeal, a writ of cert is not a matter of right. A writ of cert will have to be petitioned for, the higher court issuing such writs on limited bases according to constraints such as time. In another sense, a writ of cert is like an appeal in its constraints; it too may only seek relief on grounds raised in the original trial.

A petition for a writ coram nobis, is a post-judgment attack on the outcome of the case. It is made to the trial court and claims that there are errors requiring the court to set aside the verdict and/or the sentence. Use of the writ coram nobis varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, in most jurisdictions it is limited to situations where a direct appeal was not previously possible—usually because the issue was simply unknown at the time of appeal (that is, a "latent" issue) or because the issue otherwise could not be raised on appeal because of procedural barriers. A common basis for coram nobis petitions is the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel where the alleged ineffectiveness is not shown on the record of the court. In such cases, direct appeal is usually impossible because the critical events are not visible on the record where the appellate court can see them. Thus, a prompt coram nobis petition might be an important vehicle for a defendant to use.

A writ of habeas corpus is often the last opportunity for the defendant to find relief against his guilty conviction. Habeas corpus may be pursued if a defendant is unsatisfied with the outcome of his appeal and has been refused (or did not pursue) a writ of cert, at which point he may petition one of several courts for a writ of habeas corpus. Again, these are granted at the discretion of the court and require a petition. Like appeals or writs of cert, a writ of habeas corpus may overturn a defendant's guilty conviction by finding some error in the original trial. The major difference is that writs of habeas corpus may, and often, focus on issues that lay outside the original premises of the trial, i.e., issues that could not be raised by appeal or writs of cert. These often fall in two logical categories: (1) that the trial lawyer was ineffectual or incompetent or (2) that some constitutional right has been violated.

As one moves farther down the chain of post-trial actions, relief becomes progressively more unlikely. Knowing the differences between these actions and their intended use are an important tool in increasing one's chances for a favorable outcome. Use of a lawyer is therefore often considered advisable to aid one attempting to traverse the complex post-trial landscape.

Notes and references

Further reading on historical background and other topics

See also

External links

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