How to File a Petition for Habeas Corpus in Federal Court

Habeas corpus is a kind of petition filed in federal court claiming that a state prisoner is being held in violation of federal law. If the prisoner’s federal rights have been violated, their conviction or sentence can be reversed.

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Habeas corpus petitions are complicated and best left to experienced appellate counsel.

Federal law permits state prisoners to file what’s called a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a court order requiring a person in custody to be brought before a judge or into court. The general idea is that a federal district court can intercede in a state criminal case if it determines that the state courts have deprived a defendant of their rights under federal law.

To seek relief in a United States district court, a federal court, there must be a federal issue in the case. The most common federal issue raised in habeas corpus cases is “ineffective assistance of counsel.” A defendant, even in a state case, is entitled to the effective assistance of a lawyer. Effective assistance means legal representation that is at least objectively reasonable. Suppose the lawyer did something or failed to do something, and their representation falls below the objectively reasonable standard. In that case, it is a violation of the defendant’s right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

A prerequisite to seeking a writ of habeas corpus is to exhaust all state courts’ appellate issues first. If there are still motions or appeals available in the state court system, not including a 6.500 Motion, the federal court would not have jurisdiction.

The Argument in a Writ of Habeas Corpus

The claim for relief, typically setting aside a conviction or reversing a sentence, is that the state court’s decision was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court. Typical arguments in a habeas corpus petition include:

  • Fourth Amendment – A search or seizure violated the defendant’s 4th Amendment right to be free from unlawful or unreasonable search or seizure. This issue can only be raised in a habeas petition if the prisoner was not provided a “full and fair” opportunity to litigate it in state court. If there was a “full and fair” opportunity, the federal court will not recognize an argument based on the Fourth Amendment.
  • Fifth Amendment – The 5th Amendment has several rights, including:
    • The Fifth Amendment contains the right to be indicted by Grand Jury; However, Michigan is not a grand jury state. Although Grand Juries are used from time-to-time in Michigan, the preliminary examination process is used most often.
    • Double Jeopardy (right to be free from being prosecuted twice for the same offense).
    • The right to be free from self-incrimination. In other words, the right not to be compelled to provide information to the government that may implicate you in criminal activity.
    • The right to Due Process. Due Process is generally the right to be treated fairly.
  • Sixth Amendment – The 6th Amendment has several rights, including:
    • The right to a speedy and public trial.
    • The right to an impartial jury.
    • The right to be prosecuted in the proper jurisdiction (where the alleged crime occurred).
    • The right to confront your accuser and any witnesses against you and compel witnesses to testify on your behalf.
    • The right to the effective assistance of a lawyer.
  • Eighth Amendment – The right to be free from excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Fourteenth Amendment – The right to Due Process in federal and state courts.

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Time Limitations for a Habeas Corpus Petition

A Habeas Corpus Petition must be filed in federal court within one (1) year and 90 days after the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling (465 days). Or one (1) year and 90 days from when the deadline for an appeal has passed, and further state appeals are no longer available.

Will a state prisoner win if they prove a violation of their federal rights?

Proving that the prisoner is being held illegally because their federal rights were violated is a start, but not nearly enough. The starting point to winning a habeas petition is showing that the police, prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge acted (or failed to act) – during your arrest, trial, or sentencing – in a way that violated your federal constitutional rights. Suppose the prisoner successfully shows a violation of their federal rights. In that case, they must also show that the violation of their rights harmed them by having a “substantial effect” on the outcome of the trial or sentence. If a violation of federal rights did not have a “substantial effect,” the state prosecutor can raise an argument that the error was “harmless.” If the government claims the error was “harmless,” then the prosecution bears the burden of proof.

A violation of your federal rights means that the state court’s decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”

What if a claim was not presented in state court? Can it be raised in federal court?

If a claim was not raised in state court, it might be procedurally defaulted. Procedurally defaulted means that the issue cannot be raised in federal court. There are several exceptions for extraordinary circumstances where procedural default might not apply. This issue is extraordinarily complex, and only the most experienced appellate lawyers are qualified to analyze and argue these issues.

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Attorneys for a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

The Appellate Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has vast experience in appellate work. Our attorneys have been practicing in state and federal courts for decades. We have achieved an unparalleled level of success in criminal defense because we take the time to research our clients’ factual and legal issues thoroughly. We make certain that all substantive issues are fully articulated in any legal pleadings filed. We can ensure top-quality work because we have a team of lawyers to collaborate and coordinate with one another on every client’s defense.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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