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What is Habeas Corpus? Writ of Habeas Corpus Explained: Criminal Appeals Attorneys

What does Habeas Corpus mean?

Habeas Corpus is a centuries-old legal doctrine which translates from Latin as “to have the body.” This legal doctrine allows a person who is detained or punished by the government to petition a court to address the legality of his detainment or punishment.

Today, habeas corpus is used to challenge the legality of a person’s imprisonment (prison or jail), pretrial detention, bail conditions, parole or probation conditions, extradition, or other direct criminal punishment.

If the court grants the petitioner’s habeas corpus petition, the court will issue a civil writ (court order) to the entity that is holding the petitioner. The writ orders the entity to release the petitioner from the illegal punishment (i.e., retrial on the legal issues, reduction of punishment or prison sentence to conform to the law, release from custody, overturn of verdict at trial, etc.).

Custody Requirement: A petition for writ of habeas corpus may be filed by any person who is confined by the government (i.e., jail, detention, imprisoned, held on parole, etc.).

Exhausted Legal Remedies: A petition for writ of habeas corpus may only be filed after the petitioner has exhausted other legal remedies, including criminal appeals that may be available on the legal issues (appeal to the superior court, appeals court, state court).

Procedure: The timing requirements and procedural issues are very complex with habeas corpus petitions. In fact, there are two types of habeas corpus petitions in California, the state habeas corpus petition, and the federal habeas corpus petition. Each petition has different legal requirements and timelines that must be followed before a court will consider the petitioner’s petition.

Local court rules and required forms and/or other documents also vary from court to court regarding habeas corpus petition requirements. A criminal defendant or convicted prisoner should not attempt the complexities of a habeas petition without the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Important: Missed filing deadlines, or procedural errors, could result in the petitioner’s habeas corpus petition being denied, or not even considered, by the habeas court.

For example, a federal habeas corpus petition must be filed no later than one year after the petitioner has exhausted all remedies (i.e., appeals). If the petitioner misses this deadline, the federal court will not even consider the petitioner’s petition for habeas corpus. California requires a petitioner to file known habeas claims as promptly as circumstances allow.

Common HC Claims: There are hundreds of arguments that may be made in support of a habeas corpus petition, but virtually all petitions’ arguments surround the issues of incompetent assistance of legal counsel (ineffective assistance of counsel [IAC] at the trial level, juror misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, new evidence (very limited), judge error at trial or sentencing, parole or probation conditions and terms, detention conditions (over-crowding or cruel and unusual confinement conditions), the law upon which the petitioner is convicted is unconstitutional or has changed, illegal extradition, double jeopardy issues, and bail conditions (including the amount of pretrial bail).

Note: Illegal search and seizure issues are often litigated in habeas corpus petitions, but the issue is a sub-issue of the larger complaints of incompetent legal counsel or juror error. In other words, the habeas petitioner’s claim is that competent legal counsel, and/or a proper court order, would have resolved the issue in the petitioner’s favor and that issue would have resulted in a different jury verdict.

Habeas Corpus Petitioner v. Criminal Appeal

A Petition for writ of habeas corpus is not a criminal appeal. A criminal appeal, if successful, may overturn a conviction. A habeas petition looks to the legality of the petitioner’s confinement or punishment, regardless of the criminal conviction.

In practice, if the habeas corpus petitioner is granted a new trial due to his illegal confinement, then the practical effect is similar in some ways to a criminal appeal. Criminal appeals have their own legal requirements and procedures. For more information, see Criminal Appeals.

To learn more about the writ of habeas corpus, contact our criminal defense attorneys and criminal appeals attorneys today for a free consultation. Our team of lawyers have defended hundreds of defendants in the Inland Empire, including the cities and criminal courts of Redlands, San Bernardino, Riverside, Morongo, Rancho Cucamonga, Banning, Victorville, Pomona, Indio, Moreo Valley, & More. Call today!


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Habeas Corpus Explained


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