Writs are an exception to the typical appeals process. As explained below, a defendant can ask a higher court to issue a writ outside of the appellate process to rectify certain wrongs that occurred at the trial court level.
Defendants who want to challenge the legality of their imprisonment—or the conditions in which they are being imprisoned—may seek help from a court by filing what is known as a petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Habeas corpus means “you have the body.”)
The writ of habeas corpus can serve several functions, but none is more important than its potential to exonerate convicted defendants. Defendants are sometimes able to file petitions for writs of habeas corpus even after their appeals have failed. Though the standard they have to meet in order to establish innocence on habeas review may vary depending on the circumstances, they always face a stiff task.
A not guilty verdict on all charges normally ends a criminal case—the prosecution cannot appeal an acquittal. A guilty verdict on some or all charges, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the case is over.
The many rituals followed in criminal trials have developed over centuries. America's common law heritage makes it possible for all states and the federal government to follow a largely uniform set of trial procedures -- from jury selection to sentencing. Here are explanations of most of the things that will happen at a trial, in the order in which they occur, including jury selection, opening statements, cross-examination, motions to dismiss, and jury instructions.
It’s not uncommon for those who’ve been accused of crime to plead guilty, only to later regret it. Whether it’s because of an unpredictably stiff sentence or “buyer’s remorse,” many defendants believe—rightly or wrongly—that they got a raw deal.