Legal professionals reading about writs of habeas corpus.

What is a Writ of Habeas Corpus?

Writs of habeas corpus can be effective after the deadline has passed to file a motion to vacate or if a judge does not allow you to withdraw your plea. At these points, a person must make the case for why he or she should be able to withdraw the plea. In some cases, a person might have entered a guilty plea, realizing that it was wrong. In filing a writ of habeas corpus, many people have discovered that the assistance of a seasoned criminal defense attorney is particularly helpful in achieving a favorable outcome.

Understanding the Writs of Habeas Corpus

People who want to challenge the legality of the reasons for which they are imprisoned often seek clarification from a court by filing an application for a writ of habeas corpus, which is translated to “produce the body.” A habeas corpus is a type of court order that the person who is holding the individual deliver them to the court who issued the conviction.

The benefit of writs of habeas corpus is that they help a person receive assistance from courts in monitoring the institutions that imprison them. This is beneficial because otherwise, a person could end up imprisoned for months or even years without being charged or convicted of an offense and without an option to challenge the imprisonment. By using a writ of habeas corpus, a person can also request that a judge set him or her free or address improper jail conditions. It is also important to understand that a writ of habeas corpus does not guarantee a release from custody. 

The Federal Power of Writ of Habeas Corpus

The United States Constitution prohibits the government from suspending these writs unless rare exceptions exist. For example, the writ of habeas corpus according to the United States Constitution shall not be “suspended unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion of privacy requires it.” This means that “the privilege of the writ” of habeas corpus can be suspended if the United States is facing a rebellion or invasion from a foreign enemy.

Types of Errors Involved in Habeas Corpus Motions

A federal court will address a broad variety of issues in a habeas corpus proceeding. These claims, however, must arise from rights that are granted to the individual by the United States Constitution or through federal law.

Challenges regarding the competency of an attorney are a common basis for a habeas corpus petition. This is because the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel for criminal defense. Habeas corpus petitioners commonly raise the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel because otherwise they would be prohibited from arguing new evidence or raising issues not raised earlier. Habeas corpus petitions brought in federal court involving ineffective assistance of counsel must satisfy a cause and prejudice test.

It is also common for a habeas corpus petitioner to assert a claim on behalf of the trial court. Claims against trial courts are often specific in nature. Detrimental procedural error is the most common type of trial court error. Other petitions concern a violation of a person’s due process rights.

Many Eighth Amendment claims involving detention and punishment also constitute a form of trial court error. The most common type of Eighth Amendment claims argue that a sentence was excessive.

The United States Supreme has, however, held that petitioners are prohibited from using federal habeas corpus petitions to challenge searches and seizures as illegal. 

Timeliness When Federal Habeas Corpus Petitions are Involved

A significant challenge presented by habeas corpus petitions involves timeliness. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 established a one-year time period within which habeas corpus petitions must be filed.

The statute of limitations period begins to run from the latest of four dates:

  • The date on which the United States Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari to review a state court’s decision
  • If the state created an illegal obstacle that prevented the individual from filing a federal habeas corpus motion, the date on which the obstacle no longer existed.
  • If the United States Supreme Court holds that a new constitutional right exists, the date on which this decision is filed.
  • If the petitioner would not have discovered the facts that support the claim through due diligence, the date on which the facts of the case would have been discovered through due diligence.

Given these strict timelines, if you are interested in filing a habeas corpus petition, it is often in your best interest to immediately obtain the assistance of an experienced criminal appeals lawyer.

Similarities to Appeals

There are some particular commonalities between an appeal and a writ of habeas corpus. Both elements are part of the appellate process in both federal courts and state courts. Also like an appeal, a writ of habeas corpus is filed after a person has been convicted of a crime. A person can file a writ of habeas corpus, however, anytime after he or she is detained by law enforcement.

Another significant difference between these two methods is the reason they are used. Appeals are made to correct errors that occur during a person’s case. As a result, appellate courts only consider issues that already arose within the case.

A writ of habeas corpus, however, involves showing that a court’s decision to imprison a person was based on either a factual or legal error. Habeas corpus cases are difficult to win. A person is also not entitled to legal counsel on a writ of habeas corpus unless that person was convicted of a capital murder and sentenced to death.

Speak with a Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Attorney Today

It can be difficult for a person to determine if it would be better to file an appeal or a writ of habeas corpus. As a result, if you find yourself in this situation, you should obtain the assistance of legal counsel to determine the various options that are available in your case. At the Federal Criminal Law Center, our legal counsel has significant experience creating strong criminal appeals and knows what it takes to make sure that your case is resolved in the best possible manner. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.