What Is Writ of Habeas Corpus?
You may or may not have heard of a writ of habeas corpus. In this article, we will explain what a writ of habeas is and what the petitioner must do to be successful.
What Is a Writ of Habeas Corpus?
A writ of habeas corpus is a way for a detainee to appeal their sentence, conviction, or conditions of imprisonment. Often, the detainee will have had to exhausted all of their appeals before they can file a writ of habeas corpus. California Penal Code Sections 1473-1508 outline the process of a writ of habeas corpus.
When Can Someone File a Writ of Habeas Corpus
There are three requirements that all petitioners must meet if they wish to file a writ of habeas corpus:
- They must be in custody
- The must have filed all of their possible appeals
- They must be filing a writ of habeas corpus to challenge something that wasn’t addressed in their appeals
To be in custody, the person filing the petition does not necessarily have to be in state or county prison; they could be on bail or parole, or even on probation. They can even file it if they have been released on their own recognizance.
The purpose of a writ of habeas corpus is to argue that the basis of the conviction was unlawful.
What Can You Challenge With a Writ of Habeas Corpus?
A writ of habeas corpus serves to challenge the legality of the detainee’s imprisonment. The petition for a writ of habeas corpus must state the issue with one of the following things:
- The law that resulted in their conviction is unconstitutional
- Ineffective legal counsel or that they were not provided with legal counsel
- New evidence has been uncovered that shows the innocence of the petitioner
- They were not fit to stand trial
- Prosecutorial misconduct occurred that affected their conviction
- The conditions of their detainment are unsafe or challenging
- The law that their conviction was based upon has changed, and they are no longer guilty under that law
The petitioner of a writ of habeas corpus must state one of the above issues with their conviction otherwise, they will not be successful.
How to File a Writ of Habeas Corpus
A writ of habeas corpus allows a detainee to ask the government to produce evidence of the legality of their imprisonment. They must file their petition in a timely manner and while they are in custody. As discussed above, custody includes probation and bail or parole. What a timely manner is will depend on the case and the speed of the appeals for the detainee.
Both the government and the detainee will present evidence as to the basis of the conviction. As with any other hearing or trial, the court may issue subpoenas to ensure they can hear all the evidence they need to make a decision.
The court may make one of the following decisions following a writ of habeas corpus hearing:
- A declaration of rights of the detainee
- Reduce the sentence
- Release them from prison
- Order that the illegal confinement conditions stop
The writ of habeas corpus is not designed to appeal the decision of the court; it is to challenge the way the law was applied to obtain a conviction. This is why the petitioner must have exhausted their appeals before they can file a writ of habeas corpus.
This makes the writ of habeas corpus process seem straightforward, but there are often a number of steps where the petitioner files their claim, and the government has a chance to respond. The court will examine these claims and responses to make a decision as to whether they will hold a writ of habeas corpus hearing.
What Happens if My Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition is Denied?
If your writ of habeas corpus is denied, you can file a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. This often follows a much stricter process, and there is a narrower eligibility requirement.
A writ of habeas corpus can only be filed in federal court, if:
- The conditions of the custody violate federal law or the United States Constitution
- They have exhausted all of their remedies provided by California law
- There were obvious mistakes made by the courts