Federal Habeas Review Attorney in Columbia, SC – State Court Convictions
Elizabeth is experienced in representing clients seeking to challenge their state court convictions by way of federal habeas petitions. She represents clients in both the South Carolina District Court and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Petitions for habeas corpus most often take the form of 1) a 2255 motion based on ineffective assistance of counsel, or 2) a petition asking for federal habeas review of a state court conviction.
If you have been convicted of a crime in state court and believe you may have grounds for federal habeas review, call us as soon as possible because there are strict time limits for when you can file a federal habeas petition and you may have to pursue other remedies first in order to comply with the “exhaustion” requirement.
What is Federal Habeas Review of a State Court Conviction?
The writ of habeas corpus was first used in England in the 1600s as a means to challenge an unlawful detention. Habeas corpus means “you have the body,” and was a way to petition the King’s Court if you thought you were being detained unlawfully.
Habeas corpus was adopted by the United States along with most of the English common law, although there have been many changes to habeas corpus law since then with the legislature and courts first expanding and then limiting habeas review in the federal courts.
At first, federal habeas review was limited to federal prisoners, but, following the Civil War, the writ was expanded to allow prisoners of the states to file habeas petitions if they were being held in violation of federal law. It later also became a tool to challenge civil rights violations and detentions based on illegal state actions.
In 1996, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) limited the use of federal habeas review by:
- Creating a one-year statute of limitations;
- Prohibiting second or successive habeas petitions unless the Circuit Court of Appeals gives permission; and
- Denying habeas relief unless the state court’s decision was “contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”
In recent decades, federal habeas review has been further limited by other statutes and court opinions, making it increasingly difficult to qualify for relief.
What Types of Claims Can Be Raised in a Federal Habeas Corpus Petition?
28 USC Section 2254 authorizes the federal courts to hear habeas petitions from persons who are in state custody but limits the grounds to one: that the person “is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.”
Federal habeas review is further limited to claims that a state court’s decision violated “clearly established federal law” or “was based on an unreasonable interpretation of the facts” presented in the lower court:
(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim—
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
What is the Exhaustion Requirement for Federal Habeas Review?
Federal habeas review is intended to be the “court of last resort,” and the applicant must have exhausted all remedies that were available in the state court before filing the federal habeas petition:
(b)(1) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that—
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B)(i) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.
In South Carolina, this means that you must:
- File a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals;
- Appeal that decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court;
- File a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) in the state court;
- Appeal the PCR decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court; and
- Pursue any other remedies that are available before filing the federal habeas petition.
If you procedurally default on any of these steps – for example, if your PCR action is dismissed because you missed the statute of limitation – then your federal habeas petition will be denied because you did not exhaust all state court remedies. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they are narrow and very fact-specific.
Can I Ask for Federal Habeas Review Based on Newly-Discovered Evidence?
Federal law allows habeas review of claims based on newly-discovered evidence, but it is limited to claims where the applicant can prove “by clear and convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense:”
(2) If the applicant has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings, the court shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim unless the applicant shows that—
(A) the claim relies on—
(i) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable; or
(ii) a factual predicate that could not have been previously discovered through the exercise of due diligence; and
(B) the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.
The federal court relies on the record from the previous courts. But what happens when the state courts made findings of fact that were wrong? The habeas court will presume that factual determinations by the state court are correct, but you can “rebut the presumption” by clear and convincing evidence:
(1) In a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.
Can I File More Than One Habeas Petition?
Like second or successive 2255 motions, the courts will dismiss second or successive habeas petitions unless it is approved by a three-judge panel of the Circuit Court of Appeals and it contains:
- Newly discovered evidence “sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable factfinder would have found the movant guilty of the offense;” or
- A new rule of constitutional law that has been made retroactive by the US Supreme Court.
Federal Habeas Review Lawyer in Columbia, SC
If you need help with federal habeas review of a state court conviction, contact us as soon as possible. Do not delay, because there are deadlines and there may be additional state court remedies that need to be pursued in order to comply with the state court exhaustion requirement.
For more information, call us at (803) 331-3421 or send us an email to set up a consultation about your case.