HABEAS CORPUS PETITIONS
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A habeas corpus petition is a writ that seeks post-conviction relief in federal court. However, a habeas corpus petition is much more than any other writ. In fact, the habeas corpus petition is known as the “Great Writ” because it has the ability to free a prisoner who is unlawfully incarcerated. The habeas corpus petition is similar to a post-conviction petition filed under Illinois law. In fact, federal rules require that a habeas corpus petitioner exhaust all state remedies before filing a federal habeas corpus petition.
The Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus
Habeas corpus is a Medieval Latin phrase that roughly translates as, “You should have the body.” Habeas corpus is a writ by which people incarcerated can seek relief form unlawful incarceration. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the writ of habeas corpus and it cannot be taken away “unless when in case of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” The right of habeas corpus does not prevent unlawful arrest; rather, the writ of habeas corpus provides relief from incarceration from an unlawful arrest.
Like a post-conviction petition under Illinois, success on a federal habeas corpus petition is a difficult proposition. In a habeas corpus petition, the incarcerated individual or his representative can petition the warden demanding to appear before a court to determine whether the detention is lawful. A habeas corpus petition is generally the last option available to a defendant.
When is Habeas Corpus Available?
Federal habeas corpus petitions are available to federal prisoners and prisoners in state prison. Federal prisoners must file their petition in a federal district court but the filing must meet strict filing deadlines. Federal prisoners must file their habeas corpus petition within 1-year of the following conditions occurring:
- Within 1-year of your conviction becoming final.
- Within 1-year of the date on which the law changes that provides a basis for habeas corpus relief
- Within 1 year of when the newly discovered facts that form the basis of the habeas corpus petition could have been discovered by a reasonable effort. Note that this date can be vastly different than when the new evidence was actually discovered.
Habeas corpus petitioners challenging a state court imprisonment are treated differently. State prisoners can raise a habeas corpus petition only if they can establish that their sentence violates federal law or the U.S. Constitution. A challenge based upon Illinois law or the Illinois Constitution even if valid is insufficient in a federal habeas corpus petition.
Aside from the requirement that a habeas corpus must challenge federal law, state prisoners must also exhaust every option available in state courts. Therefore, a habeas corpus petition will always be the last legal recourse available to a state prisoner. In other words, state prisoners must have unsuccessfully pursued a direct appeal and a post-conviction petition.
Even if a state prisoner can establish that a constitutional error occurred under federal law and that all options created by Illinois law have been pursued, a state prisoner must further show that the incarceration is contrary to clearly established federal law or that the incarceration is wholly unreasonable.
Both are difficult burdens to overcome but not impossible. Only worthy habeas corpus petitions are granted, which is ever more reason why your habeas corpus attorney must be experienced in appellate work.
Contact us today 630-360-2LAW (2529) to discuss if a habeas corpus petition is something that you or your family member should pursue.
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