Habeas Corpus

The writ of habeas corpus is one of the oldest legal concepts in Western culture, and it continues to affect the legal system in California today. In simple terms, habeas corpus allows you to challenge a conviction or sentence by filing a petition. Statistically speaking, however, few petitions are granted.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 3.2% of all habeas corpus petitions are successful. For the defendants whose petitions are granted, however, the effect is life-changing, which is a good reason to explore your options.

Are you interested in filing a habeas corpus petition? Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to do it alone—the criminal defense attorneys at Gressley & Donaldson are here to help. This article will explain everything you need to know about your habeas corpus rights, filing requirements, and more.

Ready to pursue habeas corpus relief? Our criminal defense lawyers can help you find the best strategy to regain your personal liberty. Contact us online to get started.

What Is the Meaning of a “Writ of Habeas Corpus?”

As with many other legal concepts, the phrase “habeas corpus” is Latin, and it includes the verb “habere” (to have) and the noun “corpus” (a body). “Habeas” is in the second-person subjunctive form, so it means “You shall have.” Put these two words together, and you have the English phrase “you shall have a body.”

The implication is that other people should not have the ability to incarcerate you or control your movements without a valid legal reason—which seems obvious in modern times. When you consider the fact that habeas corpus dates back to medieval England and even appears in the Magna Carta, it becomes more understandable that people would want to assert this right.

Although antiquated, this concept still holds significance for Californians and Americans in all states. Enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, habeas corpus is one of many essential constitutional rights that shape our current legal system. Without habeas corpus, federal and state governments could theoretically arrest and detain anyone indefinitely without ever charging them with crimes.

Asking for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in California

In its most basic form, a writ represents communication from a higher court to a lower court, and it orders the lower court to do something. In other words, a writ can “compel the performance of an act.” Writs are not limited to habeas corpus; they are used in a wide variety of legal contexts.

In the U.S. legal system, federal courts can use the writ of habeas corpus to bring state prisoners or detainees to the court to determine the legality of their detention. Although it commonly applies to imprisoned individuals, it also applies to other groups, including people institutionalized for mental health.

PC 1473 Explained

Penal Code 1473 describes the writ of habeas corpus in detail. This section states that if you are unlawfully imprisoned, detained, or “restrained of your liberty,” you may ask for a writ of habeas corpus. The section also states that the purpose of this writ is to “inquire into the cause” of your arrest or detainment. In other words, a writ of habeas corpus allows you to challenge the courts to provide a valid reason for your imprisonment.

Other Types of Writs

Along with a writ of habeas corpus, there are five other types of writs: Procedendo, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari. Here’s an overview of how each works:

  • The Writ of Procedendo is used to force courts to issue a decision, which can prove especially useful when facing excessive delays.
  • The Writ of Mandamus can also encourage courts to accelerate their decision. Additionally, this writ can be used to force lower courts, government officials, and certain organizations to take action, specifically when it involves releasing information.
  • The Writ of Prohibition prevents a lower court from interfering with a higher court’s decision and from exercising powers they do not have.
  • The Writ of Quo Warranto can be used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office they currently occupy.
  • The Writ of Certiorari can force a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court. For example, the Supreme Court of California may grant a petition for a writ of certiorari so that it can review a decision made by a district court, state court, or even federal court.

Writs play a key role in safeguarding the many civil rights enjoyed by Americans. Such writs also play an important role in criminal cases and case law in general, helping to ensure that incarcerated individuals can retain certain basic human liberties.

How to Bring a Habeas Corpus Petition

Defendants who wish to bring habeas corpus petitions typically rely on defense attorneys to navigate this process on their behalf. In this situation, courts refer to the defendant as the “petitioner.” The process begins when the defense attorney files a writ of habeas corpus to the California Superior Court. This petition must contain clear, valid arguments that highlight the illegal nature of the defendant’s detention.

Form MC-275

The blank petition for a writ of habeas corpus is Form MC-275, which you can access online. This form requires your attorney to provide the location and nature of your incarceration and to explain why your incarceration is unlawful, providing supporting facts. Your attorney will then cite any prior cases or laws that support their arguments. You may provide more than one reason for your habeas corpus petition. Finally, you must sign the petition.

Filing Deadlines

There is no deadline for filing a petition for habeas corpus. This is because circumstances are subject to change and forensic technology is always advancing. For example, your lawyer may discover that the forensic evidence used in your trial was contaminated in some way, or new DNA evidence may exonerate you.

That being said, petitioners are expected to bring forth writs promptly if possible. Additionally, writs of habeas corpus for death penalty cases should be brought forth within 180 days of the due date for filing a reply brief in a direct appeal.

Habeas Corpus in Riverside County

There have been numerous successful habeas corpus writs in Riverside County. A recent case involved a nurse who was initially found guilty of murdering her boyfriend and spent 15 years in prison. After filing a habeas corpus petition that claimed “ineffective assistance of counsel” by her previous attorney, she was released.

The death of several key witnesses prompted the Riverside County District Attorney to decide against pursuing a retrial. The court found that the evidence against the defendant was “paper-thin,” and that her attorney simply didn’t bother to look into her case and discover the weakness of the evidence laid against her.

Grounds for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

Not everyone has sufficient grounds on which to file a writ of habeas corpus. PC 1473 highlights several acceptable reasons for pursuing this writ:

  • False evidence
  • False documents
  • New evidence
  • Disputed expert testimony
  • Discrimination

Specific examples include “debunked” scientific testimony, forged records, and the discovery of new fingerprints at a crime scene. If you’re unsure whether or not you qualify, it’s a good idea to speak with your defense attorney about your eligibility.

What Happens When a Writ of Habeas Corpus Is Granted?

After a writ of habeas corpus is granted, the court may hold a hearing to examine the situation. During this hearing, you can present more detailed evidence to support your argument. Remember that Form MC-275 only provides you with enough space for a brief explanation of your argument. A hearing allows you to fully explain your reasoning.

Based on the outcome of the hearing, there are several possibilities. Assuming that the court rules in your favor, you might receive a reduced sentence or retrial. The court may also decide to facilitate your release from incarceration with no further consequences or legal proceedings.

What Happens When a Writ of Habeas Corpus Is Denied?

If your writ of habeas corpus is denied, then you will not receive a hearing, and you may need to explore other options for relief. You can ask the district court for a certificate of appeal. You may also have the option to appeal this denial to a higher court. Unfortunately, a writ often represents a “last resort” for many defendants, as this process often occurs only after the normal appellate process has proven unsuccessful.

Gressley & Donaldson: Leading Criminal Defense Attorneys in California

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Are you searching for a qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney in California? Gressley & Donaldson is here to help. During our initial meeting, you can learn more about the writ of habeas corpus and determine whether this strategy could be appropriate for your situation. Getting started with us is easy: Simply contact us online to schedule a consultation.

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We understand that being accused of a crime is one of the most challenging times of your life. Rely on us to advocate for your rights and to give you the defense you deserve.