What is a writ of habeas corpus and how does it figure into your appeal rights if you lose your criminal case? This is one of the most fundamental rights that people in the United States criminal system enjoy, although it's somewhat poorly understood. Here is what you should know.

What is a writ of habeas corpus?

A writ of habeas corpus is an order from a higher court to a lower court or a public official, like a jailor, for a prisoner to be brought before a judge. That way, the judge can hear from the prisoner directly and take a look at the charges and make sure that he or she isn't being held illegally to satisfy some powerful person's own personal agenda, sense of justice, or revenge. 

In modern times, it's often less about warding off personal attacks and more about making sure that nobody gets lost in the prison system. It's also about making sure that every prisoner is afforded equal rights and protections under the law.

How is a writ of habeas corpus used?

Prior to conviction and sentencing, a writ of habeas corpus is used to ask a judge to determine if someone is being unfairly detained, often while the police are still gathering evidence. Police and prosecutors will sometimes try to do something like that as a scare tactic. They hope to get the prisoner to confess, looking for sort of deal from the prosecution. Prosecutors have even been known to hold witnesses in jail in order to keep track of them before their appearance in court or to drive home what could happen if they lie on the stand.

In an appeal, a writ of habeas corpus is often used to challenge the legality of a conviction or the physical conditions under which the prisoner is being held. It gives the jailed prisoner the right to ask the appellate judge to either order a new trial, release them, or order a change in the prison conditions. A writ might ask the appellate court to consider any number of different issues:

  • A motion for a new trial, based on things like previously unavailable evidence, incompetent original counsel, or juror misconduct.
  • A motion for a rehearing, which asks the judge to revisit a part of the trial.
  • A petition asking the judge to revisit the sentence and give one that's more lenient.
  • A motion for a change in living conditions, either within the prison the inmate is in or a move to another prison.

It's important to note that an appellate writ of habeas corpus may not be successful without strong evidence and skillful legal representation. Much of the process of an appeal takes place entirely in the form of written briefs—the actual court hearing may be very short.

For more information on how a writ of habeas corpus works or other issues related to an appeal, talk to an appellate attorney in your area.If you’re interested in finding out more about legal services, visit sites like http://www.pedersonlawrc.com.