A common legal phrase that seems to arise in every scholastic history book is the Latin term “habeas corpus.” However, not many people other than criminal lawyers even know what it means precisely. In California, a writ of habeas corpus is considered an “extraordinary remedy,” i.e., a remedy to be used only in extreme and unusual circumstances. Those convicted of crimes in California may use a habeas corpus petition to challenge their conviction.
A writ of habeas corpus is available through the federal court system to determine if a state’s detention of a prisoner is valid. A habeas corpus petition is a civil action, in the case of a California prisoner, against an agent of the State of California, typically a prison warden, who holds the defendant in custody. A habeas writ may also be used to examine any extradition processes used if applicable, the amount of the defendant’s bail, and the court’s jurisdiction of the matter.
Traditionally, the writ of habeas corpus has been known as the “Great Writ” as it is considered the last hope to find justice for those wrongly imprisoned. Latin for “that you have the body,” a habeas corpus petition first originated in 1215, through the 39th clause of the Magna Carta signed by King John, which provided “No man shall be arrested or imprisoned…except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.” The “body” means the person who is in the custody of the kingdom or state because he or she allegedly committed a crime.
English courts began actively considering petitions for habeas corpus in 1600. Although the concept of habeas corpus had initially originated as a means of opposing the king’s “divine right to incarcerate people,” it also developed as a check by the king on those other authorities who restrained the king’s subjects of their liberty.
Habeas corpus was considered an essential part of the foundational law by the Founding Fathers. In the First Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress expressly authorized the federal courts to grant habeas relief to federal prisoners. The first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall, emphasized the importance of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court’s decision in Ex parte Watkins in 1830.
If you have been convicted of a crime in California and failed to overturn this conviction on appeal, a habeas corpus petition may be an appropriate remedy, especially when you think that you have no alternative but to accept the conviction and serve the court’s sentence. The right to petition California courts with a writ of habeas corpus is guaranteed by the California Constitution.
California permits any person incarcerated within the California prison system, or otherwise restrained by the California criminal justice system, to bring a writ of habeas corpus petition to challenge their imprisonment. However, it is not easy to have a conviction overturned by using a habeas corpus petition.
A writ of habeas corpus will likely provide little if any, assistance if the fact-finder in your case incorrectly found you guilty when you were innocent. However, a habeas petition may be useful to remedy egregious mistakes at trial, such as the introduction of false evidence, or ineffective legal counsel.
The usefulness of a writ of habeas corpus is not limited to those circumstances where an innocent person is incarcerated. California law also allows incarcerated individuals to bring a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the conditions under which a criminal sentence is being served. Thus, it is an effective tactic to combat jail and prison abuse, which are common in the California state prison system.
For over forty years, the Dolan Law Offices have provided Californians with post-conviction services that clear their criminal record to further solidify their future as productive, law-abiding members of the Coachella Valley community. The attorneys at the Dolan Law Offices are experienced in helping California residents clear their criminal records. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.