Federal habeas corpus is the appropriate legal procedure for challenging the violation of constitutional rights under the U.S. Constitution or the laws of the United States, as recognized by the United States Supreme Court. Federal habeas corpus is protected by Article 1, section 9, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The United States Congress, however, has sharply limited the availability of the habeas corpus remedy in federal court.
The rules governing the handling of federal habeas corpus petitions are far too lengthy and complex to address in a brief essay. Anyone seeking to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court should first consult with their state appointed attorney or privately hired attorney. In particular, there are strict timelines that must be followed in order to file a petition in federal court and receive a ruling on the claims presented.
Additionally, the legal standards applied in federal habeas corpus proceedings are extremely rigorous. Violations of state law are insufficient to win in federal court. Defendants wishing to file a federal habeas corpus petition should consult their private or state appointed attorney about the legal standards applicable in federal habeas corpus proceedings.
Defendants seeking to file a habeas corpus petition in federal court should also first consult their state appointed or private attorney about the "exhaustion" doctrine. Generally, federal courts will not consider any claims that have not been "exhausted." This means the claim must have first been presented to the state's highest court. The federal court will not consider new claims and new evidence that has not first been presented to the state's highest court, which, in California, is the California Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, many individuals attempt to add new claims to their federal habeas corpus petition along with new evidence, often discovered years after conclusion of the state trial. The federal court will identify any new, "unexhausted" claims and dismisses them or give the petitioner the option to go back to state court to exhaust new claims before proceeding in federal court. Petitioners should be extremely cautious to avoid expiration of the federal time limit that applies to habeas corpus petitions. To avoid dismissal of new federal claims for noncompliance with federal timelines, all petitioners should consult with legal counsel before filing a federal habeas corpus petition. The legal and factual issues regarding the timelines are far too lengthy and complex to discuss in this article. Defendants should consult their state appointed appellate attorney regarding requirements for filing a federal habeas corpus petition before filing the petition.