Actual Innocence Rule Applies to Legal Malpractice Case Based on Alleged Mishandling of Request for Habeas Corpus Relief


In California, a plaintiff alleging legal malpractice in the handling of a criminal case must prove an element that is not required to be proven when the alleged malpractice arises from the handling of a civil case. That element is the plaintiff’s actual innocence of the charged crime.

In Williams v. Zugman (Second Appellate District, Division Four, Case No. B218656), the plaintiff/client had previously been convicted of arson in state court, and the conviction was confirmed on appeal. He then sought habeas corpus relief in federal court, which was denied. The client then sued his attorney for legal malpractice in connection with the request for habeas corpus relief. In the malpractice complaint, the client alleged that but for the attorney’s malpractice, he would have received a more favorable result on his habeas corpus petition. However, he did not allege facts showing actual innocence of arson.

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