Habeas Corpus Relief in Federal Court
Persons convicted in State court proceedings have several options available to them after they are convicted. These options include (1) filing a direct appeal in a court of appeal; (2) filing a postconviction motion in the trial court, such as a motion to withdraw a plea, or a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence; and, (3) filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in Federal court. Persons convicted in Federal court also have the same types of options.
Habeas corpus proceedings are quasi-civil in nature. Although the conviction being attacked is criminal, and the caselaw surrounding habeas issues can overlap into the criminal arena, the proceedings occur in a civil context, and many of the procedural rules are civil in nature. As a result, although the Government or the State may have had to carry the burden in the criminal phase of the proceedings, the burden often shifts to the petitioner during habeas proceedings.
For those wishing to consider filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus, the United States Code contains numerous statutes and rules that should be consulted beforehand. These sections can be found at 28 U.S.C. secs. 2241-2266. Generally, while persons attacking State court convictions file petitions under section 2254, persons attacking Federal court convictions file motions under section 2255. Some of the topics addressed by the statutory sections include (1) the Court’s power to grant the writ and requirements of petitions (secs. 2241 and 2242); (2) procedural matters, such as compiling the record, evidence, and hearings (secs. 2243 and 2245-2250); (3) indigent petitioners (sec. 2250); (4) the one year statute of limitations (sec. 2244(d)(1)); (5) successive petitions (sec. 2244); (6) stays of state court proceedings (sec. 2251); (7) the role of the Attorney General in proceedings attacking state court convictions (sec. 2252); and, (8) appeals of decisions on petitions and certificates of appealability (sec. 2253). In addition, counsel should note that there are specific Rules governing habeas proceedings under both sections 2254 and 2255. Rules 1-12 Governing 2254 Cases and Rules 1-12 Governing 2255 Proceedings can be found in the United States Code immediately following the statutory sections. A form petition for filing under section 2254 and a form motion for filing under section 2255 can also be found immediately after Rule 12 of the 2254 and 2255 Rules.
Persons convicted of capital crimes or their attorneys should consult the Special Habeas Corpus Procedures in Capital Cases, found at 28 U.S.C. secs. 2261-2266.