Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Federal Habeas Corpus

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Criminal Law in General » Federal Habeas Corpus

After a criminal defendant has been convicted and sentenced and completed his or her direct appeal and state post-conviction relief proceedings, the defendant has one final means to challenge his or her conviction and sentence. This final proceeding is called a federal habeas corpus proceeding, which is found at 28 U.S.C. section 2254 (prisoners in state custody) and 28 U.S.C. section 2255 (prisoners in federal custody). Habeas corpus is defined as a writ requiring a person to produce a prisoner at a designated time and place so that the court can determine the legality of the prisoner’s detention and whether to order the prisoner’s release.
A person who brings a habeas corpus action is the petitioner. The petitioner must be “in custody” in order to file a habeas corpus petition, which includes persons in state or federal jail or prison or on probation or parole. The claim(s) brought must be “cognizable,” which means they have to be based on the United States Constitution or federal law and must relate to rights that criminal defendants posses at trial or on direct appeal. Habeas corpus petitioners in state custody also must exhaust state remedies before seeking habeas corpus. Exhausting remedies means the petitioner must “fairly present” each of his or her constitutional claims to the state court first, including the direct appeal process and any discretionary review appeal process or through all stages of a state postconviction relief trial and postconviction relief appeal. In habeas corpus proceedings, the court may appoint counsel for the petitioner if the petitioner is financially unable to afford counsel.
There are very strict deadlines for when a habeas corpus petition must be filed. Generally, the petition must be brought within one (1) year of the decision on direct appeal. However, many criminal defendants also file state postconviction relief proceedings after the direct appeal. If a postconviction relief proceeding is brought, then the habeas deadline is suspended or tolled during postconviction relief proceedings. After postconviction relief proceedings and any appeal from the denial of postconviction relief proceedings have been completed, then the deadline for habeas corpus relief resumes.
Ultimately, the petitioner bears the burden of proving a violation of the U.S. Constitution or federal law by a preponderance of the evidence. Factual determinations at the state court level are presumed to be correct. The petitioner ban rebut this presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.
Prevailing on a petition for habeas corpus is difficult. The federal court cannot grant relief unless the state court’s consideration of the claim either resulted in a “decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or a “decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.” This means that either the state court’s ruling either went against a clear United States Supreme Court constitutional rule or involved an unreasonable determination of the facts based on evidence presented in the state court. The federal court will either deny the petitioner’s request and uphold the conviction or grant the petition and order a new trial, modify the sentence, or order other relief as necessary.


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