Writ of Habeas Corpus and Direct Appeals – Key Differences

Writ of Habeas Corpus and Direct Appeals – Key Differences

Defendants seeking to challenge the conditions of their imprisonment or the imprisonment itself may seek help from the court by filing an application or petition for a “writ of habeas corpus.” What’s the difference between a direct appeal and a writ of habeas corpus? Keep reading to find out.

What Is a Writ of Habeas Corpus?

A writ of habeas corpus appeal can be used if a defendant wants the appellate court to consider evidence that the judge might not have had before or during the trial. The habeas petition is also for situations when a legal error occurred which is outside of the bounds of the traditional record that would get submitted for an appeal, in other words, for extraordinary circumstances. To win a habeas petition, the defendant must also prove that the legal error resulted from their loss of protected rights – a tough, but not impossible, challenge with the right expert legal guidance.

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A writ of habeas corpus translates to “produce the body.” Such a writ is a court order to a person (prison warden) or agency (institution) holding someone in custody to bring the imprisoned individual from prison to the court issuing the order. Like the US Constitution, many state constitutions also provide for writs of habeas corpus, which specifically forbids the government from suspending writ proceedings except in rare instances like war. This essential and unique right first appeared in the Bill of Rights and was sought to be granted to all imprisoned persons to prevent unchecked abuses of power by the government.

What Is a Direct Appeal?

A direct appeal is more formally structured than a writ of habeas corpus appeal, is made on narrower grounds, and is generally a request to a court above the trial court, known as an “appellate court,” to review and change the decision of the lower court.

The defendant making a direct appeal may challenge their conviction, sentence, or both. To succeed in the challenge, they must demonstrate error was committed during the trial, which generally has more to do with the legal procedures followed and the law that was applied than any new evidence being brought to light.

writ of habeas corpus vs appeal

Read now: What happens if you lose an appeal?

Which One Should I File for?

There are various differences between a direct appeal and a writ of habeas corpus. The main difference is found in the reason why the defendant is accessing the appellate process. Direct appeals are typically used to correct errors that occurred in the case. In an appeal, the appellate courts only consider what they can find within the “four corners” of the case file and never (or almost never) consider new evidence. If a defendant thinks that the trial judge made some legal error during the criminal trial, then the defendant will want to file an appeal.

On the other hand, a writ of habeas corpus may be able to present evidence outside of the four corners of the lower court proceeding. It may also be able to deal with abuses and unfairness within the prison system where the criminal defendant is serving their sentence. The habeas corpus appeal is the pathway to a defendant asserting Constitutional rights to which they are still entitled, even as a prisoner, under the U.S. legal system.

Questions about the Appellate Process? Ask an Attorney

It is sometimes difficult to know whether to file an appeal, a writ of habeas corpus, or both. At the law offices of Kretzer and Volberding, our civil appeals lawyers have extensive experience in all types of criminal matters and the appeal process in federal court and can help guide clients along the best path for a successful criminal appeal.

Contact appellate court attorneys Seth Kretzer and James Volberding today through our website or phone at 713-775-3050 for assistance.

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