Can Habeas Corpus Help Me Appeal My Conviction?

The term “habeas corpus” is often heard in the context of the appeals process after a conviction. What is habeas corpus, and can it help you appeal your conviction?


habeas corpusUnder the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, you can’t be imprisoned unlawfully, without due process, or without the government showing just cause. The writ of habeas corpus (Latin for “you have the body”) is an order from the judge to bring a prisoner before the courts to determine whether the prisoner is being held lawfully or whether he/she should be released. This safeguard was written into the Constitution to guard against the government holding prisoners indefinitely with no due process, as had been a common practice with kings in England.

In the context of being already convicted and imprisoned, your defense attorney may file a petition of habeas corpus after other appeals have run their course, especially if there is evidence that your incarceration is a result of a violation of your constitutional rights. If the judge agrees that the evidence is significant enough to warrant a review, he/she will issue a writ of habeas corpus, bringing you back to court to review the circumstances of your imprisonment.


Does habeas corpus help you appeal your conviction? Not technically. Habeas corpus does not question your guilt or innocence, nor the validity of your conviction; it only challenges the legality of your imprisonment. In fact, attorneys can only defer to habeas corpus as a last resort after direct appeals have run their course, because your conviction and imprisonment aren’t finalized until those appeals are complete. By the time your attorney files this petition, your conviction itself will be well established. However, if habeas corpus proves effective, you must be released from prison regardless of the outcome of the trial.

If you believe your current incarceration is a result of your constitutional rights being violated during the trial, a petition of habeas corpus can provide effective post-conviction relief, provided it is prepared and filed by an experienced attorney with a good working knowledge of constitutional law. To learn more, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today.