How Do You File a Habeas Petition While in Prison?

How Do You File a Habeas Petition While in Prison?

The right to habeas corpus is one of Americans’ most fundamental rights. Habeas corpus literally means “produce the body,” and it protects against indefinite and unlawful imprisonment. If you believe that the government unlawfully detained you, you can file a habeas petition, even from prison.

What is a writ of habeas corpus?

The writ of habeas corpus is a court order requiring the government to produce a valid reason for a person’s detention. Prisoners use this procedure to dispute the legal basis for their incarceration. Habeas corpus is a centuries-old rule and comes from English common law, which is why it has such an unusual name.

What is a habeas petition?

If you believe that the government unlawfully detained you, you can file a habeas petition. This petition asks the court to decide whether your detention is legal or not. U.S. courts take these petitions very seriously. Habeas petitions often get priority on court schedules. This means that, usually, your petition moves quickly.

Image of someone working on a habeas petition.
Image courtesy of Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels.

How can you file a habeas petition from prison?

There are several steps you must take to file a habeas petition from prison. You can file a habeas petition yourself. Your attorney can also file a habeas petition on your behalf. In either case, the process is the same.

Keep in mind that you have to exhaust your state-level remedies before turning to federal court to file your habeas petition. In addition, it’s very important that you file your federal petition within 180 days after your state proceedings are exhausted. At that point, consider the following steps:

  1. Get the correct form. The government has a specific form for filing a habeas petition. You should be able to get this form from your institution. If you cannot, the form is available online for free on the United States Courts website, although you are not required to use the form from this site.
  2. Fill the form out carefully. The form will ask you to enter some general information. You will need to give them your name, the name of your prison and when you want your hearing to take place. You must also provide a reason for filing. Some of the most common reasons for filing include unjust detention, excessive bail, and denial of due process. You’ll also have to explain the factual and/or legal reasons behind why you feel your imprisonment is unjust.
  3. File the form properly. After you complete the form, you must file it. Mail the form to the U.S. district court that oversees your facility. This page has a list and map of U.S. district courts.
Image of habeas petition filing.
Image courtesy of iStock.

What do you do after filing your habeas petition?

After you file your habeas petition, the court will review it. Here is what you need to do once you’ve filed your petition.

  1. Wait for your decision. In most cases, courts will prioritize habeas cases. A judge will either grant or deny your petition, or it may order you to appear in court.
  2. Follow through on court orders. If the court grants your petition, it will order your prison to bring you to court for a hearing. Usually, your court date will be within 10 days of the decision.
  3. Appeal if you can. If a court denies your petition, you do not automatically have the right to appeal. You must wait for the court to issue a Certificate of Appealability. If the court denies you a Certificate of Appealability, you can apply for one.

Understand that courts deny most of these petitions. But many of these denials occur because of simple procedural mistakes. An attorney can help you with your habeas petition to avoid denials that aren’t based on the merits of your case.

If you win, the judge may provide you with such options as a reduced sentence, a change in confinement, a release, or another decision.

The Takeaway:

In the U.S., you have the right to not be detained unlawfully. If you feel that your rights are being violated, you can file a habeas petition to take the issue to court. A judge will usually rule on your petition quickly.

Curious about legal cases that impact prisoners? Want to know more about your rights as an incarcerated person? Stay tuned to How To Justice for more info about the prison system.

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