“Habeas corpus” is a term that originated in English common law. It is meant to protect individuals from being illegally imprisoned. Someone held in custody can file a petition requiring the custodian to provide adequate legal justification for detention. If the custodian cannot do so, the court can order that the detainee be released.
In the United States, the Suspension Clause of the U.S. Constitution specifically states that “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Petitioning for writ of habeas corpus is one of the fundamentals of living in a free society. Without this right, a person could be imprisoned at any time for any reason.
How Habeas Corpus Is Used
Habeas corpus relief today is mostly used after a conviction on state or federal charges, as a way for prisoners to challenge the legality of the application of laws that resulted in detention. Habeas corpus is used in determining certain aspects of criminal cases, such as
• Whether there is an adequate basis for detaining a person
• Whether the case should be moved to another federal district court
• Whether bail or parole should be denied
• In claims of double jeopardy
• When there is a failure to provide a speedy trial or hearing
• In cases of possible extradition to a foreign country
What Is Habeas Corpus Relief?
A habeas corpus review requires two conditions be met:
• The person petitioning for habeas corpus relief must be in custody when the petition is filed
• Someone held in state custody must exhaust all state remedies including state appellate review before petitioning for habeas corpus relief in federal court.
A petition for habeas corpus relief must be made in writing and signed by the petitioner or someone acting on his or her behalf. The petition names the custodian as the respondent and presents facts about the petitioner’s custody, including the legal basis for the request for relief.
Know the facts to increase the chances for habeas corpus relief.
Habeas corpus law is complicated, and different courts follow different rules. But there are general facts about habeas corpus relief that you should know. Here are 5 of them.
1. You Must File Your Petition Within One Year of Losing Your Direct Appeal
If you’re convicted in state court and file a post-conviction appeal, the one-year deadline extends to accommodate the state’s post-conviction process. But it’s critical that you remember that you have a deadline, and that you must be aware of timeline requirements in your state.
2. Claims You Want to Bring in Federal Court Must Be Presented in State Court First
This is known as exhaustion of state remedies and direct appeal. This requirement gives state courts an opportunity to correct violations of federal law that may have occurred during your trial before you bring a habeas complaint to federal court. If you don’t exhaust state remedies first, federal courts will not address your claims.
3. Generally, You Have Only One Chance to Get Your Habeas Petition Right
Filing more than one petition for habeas corpus relief is almost impossible. Therefore it’s critical that you meet all deadlines, follow court procedures exactly, and include all pertinent information in your first petition for habeas corpus relief. If you make mistakes or are not meticulous in filing your petition for habeas corpus relief, you may not be allowed to file for habeas corpus relief again.
4. Plea Agreements May Affect Habeas Corpus Relief
If you were convicted based on a plea, you may not be eligible for habeas corpus relief. That’s because some federal courts have found that a successful post-conviction challenge such as a plea for habeas corpus relief is a breach of the plea agreement. In some such cases, plea agreements have been dissolved, and defendants later convicted under charges that had previously been dropped under the plea agreement.
5. In Some Cases You Can Petition on Behalf of Someone Else in Custody
Filing for habeas corpus relief on behalf of someone else is often allowed. The petitioner, or “next friend” may be a lawyer, a relative, or friend of the defendant. To be able to file on behalf of someone else, you must show that
• The defendant cannot bring the petition himself
• You are acting in the best interests of the defendant
Some courts may require that you have a significant relationship with the defendant, and courts want proof that the “next friend” is in a better position to file for habeas corpus relief than the actual defendant. Courts typically allow parents to petition on behalf of underage children in governmental custody.
Because the requirements involved in a successful plea for habeas corpus relief can be complex, you should work with a habeas corpus lawyer to ensure that the proper approach is taken and that all procedures are followed to the letter. Your freedom is too important to leave this important process to anyone but an expert.