LAW 296

Criminal Procedure: Habeas Corpus

Constitutional & Public Law, Criminal Justice, Critical Race Studies, Human Rights, Public Interest Law

Habeas corpus, commonly referred to as the “Great Writ,” allows prisoners to challenge their detentions and it empowers judges to free prisoners who are unlawfully detained. The U.S. Supreme Court has deemed the Great Writ “indispensable” and “indisputably holding an honored position in our jurisprudence.” This course examines the constitutional principles, statutory frameworks, and case law related to habeas corpus. We begin with an exploration of the historical evolution of the writ from an English common-law procedural mechanism for ending unlawful executive detention to the current system under which federal courts examine whether detentions are authorized. We then turn our focus to habeas litigation by state prisoners convicted of crimes through our examination of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) and how it intersects with the key Supreme Court decisions that shape the substantive and procedural contours of habeas corpus. The aim of this section is to introduce students to the concepts and rules necessary to work on habeas cases in federal clerkships and criminal law practice (i.e., prosecution or defense). Topics we will cover include statute of limitations and the tolling exceptions, exhaustion and procedural default, second/successive petitions (i.e. “abuse of the writ”), non-retroactivity, re-litigation bars, and harmless error review. Special attention is devoted to the use of habeas corpus to explore underlying substantive claims such as ineffective assistance of counsel, discriminatory jury selection, prosecutorial misconduct, and innocence. Throughout the term, we will (re)emphasize how the interplay between constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, civil procedure, and trial/appellate practice influence and complicate courts’ task of applying habeas corpus law to individual cases.

This course is designed to complement LAW 202 (“Criminal Procedure: Investigation”), LAW 212 (“Federal Courts”), LAW 295 (“Criminal Procedure: Adjudication”), LAW 711 (“Pre-trial Criminal Litigation”), LAW 429 (“Capital Punishment in America”), LAW 715 (“Criminal Defense Clinic”), and Law 720 (“Criminal Trial Advocacy”), but those courses are not prerequisites.

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