What Is a Writ of Habeas Corpus?

Aaron Spolin

Spolin Law P.C. is led by award-winning appeals attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin. One of his most recent successful outcomes was on a murder case sent to the state’s highest court.

When a law enforcement agency detains you, whether it is the Federal Bureau of Investigations, (FBI) U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), federal law may give you the right to challenge the legal basis, duration, or conditions of your imprisonment.

“Writ of Habeas Corpus” translates to “bring a body before the court.” A writ, in general, is an order from a higher court to a lower court, government agency, or government official. When you file a Writ of Habeas Corpus, you are asking the court to order the government agency to bring you to court to argue the issue you allege in the petition.

A Writ of Habeas Corpus is a petition for a court to review the circumstances surrounding your imprisonment and, when appropriate, alter those circumstances. When the court approves your petition, the law enforcement agency in charge of your detention has to prove your imprisonment is lawful and valid. The agency also may have to prove the conditions are appropriate and do not violate human or civil rights.

Federal Habeas Corpus Laws

Under federal law, there are three statutes applicable to Writs of Habeas Corpus:

  • 28 U.S.C. §2241: Power to grant writ (challenge the legality or conditions of confinement)
  • 28 U.S.C. §2254: State custody; Remedies in Federal courts
  • 28 U.S.C. §2255: Federal custody; Remedies on motion attacking sentence

When You Should Consider a Writ of Habeas Corpus

Filing a Writ of Habeas Corpus may be appropriate when:

  • You have been unlawfully imprisoned
  • You are going through an unlawfully prolonged detention
  • The law enforcement agency refuses to provide a bond hearing
  • You were unlawfully denied bail bond
  • You are suffering from unlawful conditions during the detention, such as inadequate shelter, sustenance, or medical care

What Can a Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus Do?

The first hurdle regarding a Writ of Habeas Corpus is having your petition approved. A federal court can deny your writ and refuse to give you a day in court. But if your petition is approved, then you have a chance to ask for various types of relief.

You can ask the court to:

  • Order the federal law enforcement agency to release you from custody
  • Define your rights and order the federal law enforcement agency and prison to respect those rights
  • Order illegal conditions to be corrected or cease
  • Reduce the duration of your imprisonment

A Writ of Habeas Corpus is Not a Criminal Appeal

Many individuals charged with or convicted of a crime believe a Writ of Habeas Corpus is a type of criminal appeal. This is not true.

A criminal appeal is intended to ask for a guilty verdict or other legal finding against a plaintiff to be reversed. A Writ of Habeas Corpus can never be used by a defendant to question a guilty verdict in a criminal case.

You must use all of your criminal appeals before you can consider filing a Writ of Habeas Corpus. If you have not exhausted the appeals process, the court will deny your petition.

When Will a Federal Court Hear Your Writ of Habeas Corpus?

There are complex eligibility requirements for federal Writs of Habeas Corpus. You should speak with an experienced federal criminal appeals attorney at Spolin Law P.C. about when a Writ of Habeas Corpus in federal court is appropriate.

You must be in federal custody. This includes being imprisoned, on probation, or on parole. If you have been released from prison and are not under any type of court supervision, then you may not be in custody or eligible to file a Writ of Habeas Corpus.

You must have exhausted all other avenues of appeal, and you must have a valid basis for asserting one or more of your federal rights has been violated. At Spolin Law P.C., we often find support for arguing one of our client’s Constitutional rights was violated during their arrest, trial, or imprisonment.

You have to choose the proper jurisdiction. A federal criminal appeals attorney will identify the judicial district where you reside, where a substantial part of the events that give rise to your claim occurred, where you are detained, or where the action that you are challenging to place. If you file in an improper jurisdiction, your petition will be denied. You will have wasted time and may come up against an important federal deadline.

You have to file the paperwork (cover sheet, verified petition, memo of points and authorities, and exhibits) in the proper manner and within federal deadlines. Another reason to retain a seasoned federal criminal appeals attorney is to review federal and local rules. Spolin Law P.C. is well-versed in the U.S. Code, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and individual federal judge’s standing orders.

You need to know who to name in the petition. This can be more complicated and nuanced than you think. Not only might you name the specific federal agency that has custody of you, but also you may need to name specific officials that run the agency. You must provide service of process to all of the named defendants.

Potential Arguments to Support a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

Possible arguments you can make to support a Writ of Habeas Corpus include:

  • Law violates the U.S. Constitution
  • Prison conditions violate your civil rights
  • Lack of grand jury indictment
  • Violation of due process
  • Lack of speedy and public trial
  • Inability to confront witnesses against you
  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Prosecutorial misconduct
  • Jury misconduct
  • Judicial misconduct
  • Newly discovered evidence
  • Actual innocence
  • Legal incompetence

What Happens After You File a Federal Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus?

Once you work with your federal criminal lawyer to file the Writ of Habeas Corpus in the proper jurisdiction, an attorney from the U.S. Attorney’s office is assigned—the AUSA. Your attorney and the AUSA may talk over the phone to discuss the issues, the remedy you seek, and possible solutions or compromises.

The case will be assigned to a magistrate judge who will review the case and may issue an order to show cause. If the judge allows your case to move forward, then the government attorney assigned to the case will file their appearance in court. Generally, the government has 60 days to file a response to your petition after being served.

Your lawyer will file a traverse, which is a legal document challenging an aspect of your detainment, in response to the government’s answer to your case. The traverse is an important step in convincing the judge of your argument and moving your case on to an evidentiary hearing. However, before or after a traverse is filed, a judge can dismiss your petition.

If your petition is not dismissed, we can ask the judge to allow us to conduct discovery. We must show the judge that there is good cause for discovery; otherwise they can deny it. If discovery is allowed, we can utilize interrogatories, requests for documents and other materials, demands for physical or mental examinations, requests to admit facts, and depositions.

We may present our arguments and evidence at an evidentiary hearing. The judge has the discretion to grant or deny this hearing.

It is our burden to prove a violation of federal law by a preponderance of the evidence. Only when the requisite burden is met will the judge order any changes to your circumstances.

You usually only have one chance to obtain a better outcome in your situation through a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Subsequent petitions are usually denied. Work with a seasoned attorney to make your petition count or to discuss when a second petition is possible.

Winning Your Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus Case

Former prosecutor and award-winning criminal appeals lawyer Arron Spolin can talk with you about when you are eligible to file a Writ of Habeas Corpus and what you need to win. Contact Spolin Law P.C. right away to schedule a consultation.

The steps Spolin Law P.C. takes in a Writ of Habeas Corpus Case include:

Analyze Your Criminal Case for Errors that Violated Your Rights
We will gather the records of your criminal case and appeals. We will thoroughly review every aspect of the case to determine if one or more of your federal rights have been violated and whether you have more steps in the appeals process.

Develop Legal Arguments Based on Federal Law
To file a federal petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, you need evidence one or more federal rights have been violated. We will analyze your circumstances for a valid challenge to your current imprisonment based on federal law.

Develop a Compelling Argument for Your Innocence, if Necessary
Unfortunately, innocent people are convicted in the U.S. In rare circumstances, we will seek to prove your actual innocence during the Habeas Corpus process. If we can establish you were wrongly convicted, we may affect your release.

Strive to Obtain Your Release From Prison
One of our goals when filing federal petitions for Writ of Habeas Corpus is to obtain your release from federal custody, whether you are in a federal prison or an ICE facility.

Let a Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus Lawyer Help You

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Spolin Law P.C. is one of the leading criminal appeals and post-conviction firms in the nation.

Submitting a successful petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus requires partnering with an experienced and successful federal lawyer. Aaron Spolin of Spolin Law P.C. is a former prosecutor and award-winning criminal appeals attorney. He has extensive experience in filing petitions for Writs of Habeas Corpus, and he is consistently recognized as one of the best in this area of law.

We have a strong success rate. Contact Spolin Law P.C. through our online form or call (866) 716-2805 to discuss a federal Writ of Habeas Corpus.