Put simply, “habeas corpus” is a writ (petition) that can be used in a narrow set of circumstances to bring the case of a state prisoner before the United States federal courts. However, federal prisoners may also invoke habeas corpus under slightly different circumstances. Translated directly from the Latin, the term “habeas corpus” literally means “that you have the body.” It requires the person against whom the petition is made, normally the warden of a penitentiary, to bring the “body” of the prisoner before a judge so that the judge might hear his or her case.

History of Habeas Corpus

In order to understand the nature and necessity of this complex appeals process, you must understand how application for the writ of habeas corpus developed in the American system of law. Originally, this right was developed in early English common law because it was often the case that government officials and influential individuals could have you imprisoned for years without due process of law or the right to plead your case before a judge. Invoking the right to habeas corpus required that you be brought before the court to plead your case. The United States adopted this principle, and the right to invoke habeas corpus is memorialized in the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Although the nature of invoking this right has changed over the years, as your right to due process is generally well-protected in this century, it is important to keep in mind the foundation of this principle.

Who Is Entitled to File a Federal Writ of Habeas Corpus?

Pennsylvania law has codified the right to file for habeas corpus under the same general principle that it is a challenge to the legality of a prisoner’s confinement. In order to file a petition for habeas corpus in federal court, you must satisfy the following conditions:

  • You must be duly convicted prisoner serving time in a Pennsylvania prison;
  • The writ must first be filed in Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
  • You must have exhausted all other appeal options;
  • It must be your first petition (with limited exceptions);
  • It must be filed timely, within 180 days of the final decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court;
  • It must only challenge convictions for a single matter, not multiple convictions that arose from different cases.

Unfortunately, federal habeas petitions submitted without the assistance of an attorney have a less than 1 percent rate of success, as the petition must clearly state how you believe your essential rights have been violated under federal law. This can be a difficult case to make with the limited legal resources provided to state prisoners. Hiring an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can drastically increase your chances of having your case heard by a federal judge rather than dismissed without a hearing.

Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Zeiger to Perfect your Petition

Included in the very foundation of American law is the right to be free from unjust imprisonment, and habeas corpus was designed to protect those rights. However, it can feel like you against the world when you try to plead your case, and you are generally given only one chance to do so. Do not waste it. Attorney Brian Zeiger can work to review the specific facts of your case and help you apply for habeas corpus through the federal judicial system. Contact him today at 215-546-0340 or online for a confidential, no-risk consultation.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.