Writs of habeas corpus are post-conviction challenges to a conviction. While the direct appeal is used to challenge what happened in the trial court, the writ of habeas corpus is used to challenge what did not happen in—or was not seen by—the trial court.
For example, if the trial lawyer failed to call to testify at trial the alibi witness who put the defendant three states away from the scene of the crime at the time it happened, the writ of habeas corpus is the method by which this is brought to the trial court’s attention. Since this alibi witness did not testify at trial, neither the judge or jury nor the court of appeals on the direct appeal was able to see the trial lawyer’s failure. With the writ of habeas corpus, this can be brought to the trial court’s attention for relief.
Writs of habeas corpus are only for constitutional errors. They are not for re-litigating the trial court’s ruling on an objection. The error must be constitutionally significant. In the preceding example, the trial lawyer’s deficient performance deprived the defendant of constitutionally-mandated effective assistance of counsel—the lawyer’s performance fell below the minimum required standard and this deprived the defendant of the presentation of evidence that might have won the case.
Another example of a good case for a writ of habeas corpus is when the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence. (Regrettably, it still happens quite a bit.) A writ would be used to present this to the court.
In Texas criminal cases, most writs will be 11.07 writs. (This refers to the Code of Criminal Procedure article setting the procedure.) In federal court, a writ challenging a federal conviction is a 2255. (Again, this refers to the procedural law—here, 28 U.S.C. § 2255.) A federal writ seeking review of a state court case is a 2254. A federal writ challenging conditions of confinement is a 2241. Federal writs are generally subject to a very strict 1 year time deadline. If you have a case that may require a federal writ, do not delay. The time deadline is an absolute bar to the writ. (And calculating the time is much more complicated than it should be.) Contact us at once.