Writs of Habeas Corpus, Explained

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Background Information

In the United States, the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus has a long history. In fact, it was introduced during the days of the original Thirteen Colonies; before the United States was a country.

Today, it’s still widely used to restore freedom to those who are imprisoned or in other forms of custody under state or federal institutions.

Habeas corpus is a Latin phrase that means, "that you have the body." The "body" in the phrase means the body of someone who is in state custody because they allegedly committed a crime.

In California, anyone who is in prison or state custody can bring a writ of habeas corpus petition to challenge their imprisonment. The right to do this is guaranteed by the California Constitution. Traditionally, the writ of habeas corpus has been known as the "Great Writ." For centuries it's been the last hope for justice for people who have been wrongly imprisoned.

Can a Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition Help Me or My Loved One?

In some cases, a suspected offender will be arrested illegally or held in prison under unlawful terms. Sometimes the laws change, leaving inmates in custody whose sentence is based on a law which no longer exists. In other cases, new evidence is found that exonerates the prisoner.

In order to protect the rights of these individuals, a writ of habeas corpus acts as a judicial mandate to prison officials ordering the review of the lawfulness of the arrest or imprisonment of a certain individual.

Example 1:

Proposition 57 passed in 2016 and ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to reevaluate the sentences of nonviolent offenders and grant them early release when appropriate. CDCR attempted to delay this process by not including “three strikers” in their implementation of the new law. Paul Grinker was a nonviolent offender serving 25 years in the California prison system for a nonviolent third strike. Because of the changes in the law, Grinker was able to win on his writ of habeas corpus petition and the court ordered his release in September of 2018.

Example 2:

Darryl Burton was convicted in a 1984 killing and had served 24 years of his life sentence. After trying for many years to prove his innocence, a witness finally stepped forward to confirm that he was not the shooter. After exhausting all remedies—including appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court—Burton filed a writ of habeas corpus petition. Because of the new evidence in his case—eyewitness testimony that he was not the shooter—his petition was granted and Burton was ordered to be released in 2008.

If you believe that you have been unlawfully imprisoned, or that new laws make your incarceration unlawful, you should contact our criminal defense attorneys immediately.

What if My Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition is Denied?

“Denied Without Prejudice”

If your writ of habeas corpus petition is returned with a note that it has been “Denied Without Prejudice,” consider it to be good news! It means that if you provide additional information the court may grant your writ, if whatever defects it has can be cured. The missing information requested by the court will usually be included in the denial letter. If not, one of our attorneys can help you file a corrected writ of habeas corpus petition.

“Failure to Exhaust All Remedies”

If your writ of habeas corpus petition is returned with a note that it has been denied due to a “failure to exhaust all remedies,” it isn’t necessarily bad news, either! However, it does mean you will have to pursue each remedy currently available to you which may delay your release. The court will specify within the denial letter which remedies are still available to you before you may refile.

“Denied as Moot”

This particular denial means the reason you filed a writ of habeas corpus petition does not apply because the law or regulation changed after the application was made, and before the court reviewed your petition. You won’t be able to remedy this denial by filing a revised writ of habeas corpus petition, but you may be able find new remedies under the new law or regulation which rendered your petition moot. Our attorneys can provide guidance about what new laws or regulations may apply to your case.

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Judson ParkerComment