Writ of Habeas Corpus in a DUI Case

A writ of habeas corpus is a document you can file if you have been convicted of DUI, are currently in custody or on probation, and believe you were wrongly convicted. It is a final chance to challenge the validity of a DUI conviction.

The writ of habeas corpus is sometimes called the “Great Writ” because it is a very powerful legal document and represents the final opportunity for a wrongly convicted prisoner. In legal speak, a “writ” is a formal document that calls upon the court to do something it is supposed to do—in this case, to enforce due process and your Constitutional rights.

What is a writ of habeas corpus?

Habeas corpus is Latin for “you have the body [of a person].” It refers to the state having your person in their custody, such as in jail or prison, and thus limiting your freedom. Appropriately, the writ of habeas corpus is used only after conviction, and only after all other appeals have been tried.

The purpose of the habeas corpus is get a conviction overturned because there was something improper about your trial or the legal process, or because there is new evidence. It can be used in any criminal case, including a DUI case.

What kind of DUI convict can benefit from a habeas corpus?

In order to qualify to file a writ of habeas corpus, you need to have first “exhausted all remedies,” which means you’ve already tried every appeal you are legally entitled to file. Only when those have failed can you use a habeas corpus. For this reason, DUI defendants who use the writ are usually those who are serving long prison sentences for felony DUI such as DUI causing injury, DUI causing death, or DUI murder. You can, however, file a writ of habeas corpus even if you are free but still on DUI probation.

Additionally, there has to be some reason to consider the original trial or conviction invalid. It can’t simply be that you believe the jury reached the wrong conclusion—if your trial was fair, and the jury was shown all the evidence, then a writ of habeas corpus will not be taken seriously by the courts.

But your writ will be taken very seriously if you can show that any of the following are true:

  • Your lawyer was “ineffective,” meaning they gave you bad legal advice or failed to make recommendations that any normal lawyer would make
  • You were not provided with legal counsel or the chance to obtain legal counsel
  • The prosecutor committed misconduct
  • The law you were convicted under was unconstitutional
  • You were insane, mentally diminished, or otherwise “incompetent” during your trial
  • New evidence has come to light since your conviction, and it dramatically changes your case
  • The laws you were convicted of have changed since your trial, and what you did would no longer count as guilty
  • The conditions under which you are being incarcerated are unsafe, inhumane or violate your civil rights

The first three are the most common grounds on which to challenge a DUI with a habeas corpus. It’s common for DUI defendants to not realize how serious their charges are at first, and to have no working knowledge of the complicated laws they are being tried under. Thus, they may not realize it when they are being provided ineffective legal counsel, or when their rights are being violated. Only later do they find out the terrible wrongs committed in the case against them, and the habeas corpus gives them a new chance to fight it.

Can a writ of habeas corpus ever be used before a DUI conviction?

Yes. Technically, the state “has the body” (you) even if you are out on bail before your trial, or were released without bail until trial. Similarly, some DUI defendants are held in jail until their trial with no bail. All of these count as being restricted or in custody in some way. At this early stage in the DUI process, a writ could be used to challenge violations of your rights (such as being denied a lawyer) or the DMV’s decision to revoke your license. But you must still first exhaust all other remedies, such as the DMV hearing.

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