What is a Federal Writ of Errors Coram Nobis?
The Latin translation of Coram Nobis is “the errors before us.” The writ of Coram Nobis is filed in a federal court known as the United States District Court when there is an error not presented on the record in the trial court, and the error may have produced a different judgment at trial. The statutory authority for the writ is in the All-Writs Act in the Judicial Code or 28 U. S. C. § 1651.
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Coram Nobis is a unique petition in that the defendant, unlike the Habeas Corpus petition, does not have to be in-custody. Although it may not seem necessary to reverse the judgment after completing a sentence, the defendant can still benefit from the writ of Coram Nobis by clearing his name of a conviction. Such cases can occur when a defendant who has been released from prison suffers from a legal disability when seeking employment. A defendant who has already served his sentence can file a writ of Coram Nobis because of any U.S. Constitutional violation that occurred in the lower court and attempt to clear his name. There are a myriad of Constitutional violations where filing a Coram Nobis petition is advantageous, including ineffective assistance, due process violation, and other constitutional errors.
Writs of Coram Nobis and Habeas Corpus: Fundamental Distinctions
Filing a petition for a writ of Coram Nobis is far less common than a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Filing a writ of Habeas Corpus requires that the defendant be in-custody, whereas the defendant can file a writ of Coram Nobis post-custody. The writs of Coram Nobis and Habeas Corpus also differ in terms of Statute of Limitations. Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a writ of Habeas Corpus has a strict one-year limitation after the direct appeal has been exhausted, whereas with a writ of Coram Nobis, there is no time limitation under the All Writs Act.
Because Federal Courts do not consider the All Writs Act [28 U. S. C. § 1651 (a)] an independent source of subject matter jurisdiction, the appellate Court will not issue a writ of Coram Nobis or any other writ under the All Writs Act unless deemed necessary or applicable in influencing potential jurisdiction. Its strict criteria are what make filing a writ of Coram Nobis so rare in the Federal System.
Writ of Coram Nobis at the Federal Level: Stringent Criteria
1. The petition for a writ of Coram Nobis must seek to vacate a federal criminal conviction.
A writ of Coram Nobis is not filed in federal courts to vacate or reverse a State Court’s decision. If a defendant has served his time and wishes to challenge the State Court’s judgment, he must abide by the state’s post-incarceration procedures.
2. It must be directed to the sentencing court.
The defendant must file a writ of Coram Nobis with the court in which he was sentenced.
3. It can be filed while the defendant is not in custody.
The petition will be denied or converted to a Habeas Corpus Petition if the defendant attempts to file a writ of Coram Nobis while still in custody. If the Appellate Court does convert the Coram Nobis petition to a Habeas Corpus petition, Habeas Corpus filing rules will be applied. It is crucial to be aware of this conversion since filing a Habeas Corpus petition requires exhaustion of state remedies and statutory time limitations.
4. It must provide legitimate reasons for not previously confronting the conviction.
The defendant must provide justifications for not challenging the conviction sooner. One reason or justification for delaying an attack on a trial court may be the discovery of new evidence or a recent change in law that may have affected the outcome of the verdict.
5. It must prove adverse consequences exist from the conviction.
The petitioner must prove that he continues to suffer from consequences due to his criminal record. These consequences include but are not limited to inability to obtain a professional license, deportation, and registration as a sex offender.
6. It is an extraordinary remedy to correct errors of the most fundamental character.
The error of fact must indisputably result from a miscarriage of justice.
Process of Filing a Writ of Coram Nobis at the Federal Level
In order to win post-conviction relief through a writ of Coram Nobis, the defendant must first obtain all conviction records and additionally identify fundamental or procedural errors. Unlike the writ of Habeas Corpus, the defendant must file a motion, not a separate petition. Pursuant to § 2255, which addresses the remedies on a motion attacking a sentence, a writ of Coram Nobis is requested by a motion, unlike a writ of Habeas Corpus, which is requested by a separate petition. It is important to note that while the petitioner is required to request a writ of Habeas Corpus, there is a split of authority among the Courts as to whether or not this is a right to file a writ of Coram Nobis. However, most Courts do agree that the writ of Coram Nobis requires an affidavit of errors that shows reasonable certainty of error that lead to a fallacious decision. A writ of Coram Nobis does not take errors of facts into consideration if those errors appear in the court record. The requirements to file a writ of Coram Nobis are explicit in that the Federal Court will only consider attacks on the court’s decision based on errors of fact discovered after the conviction.
Appeals of Writ of Coram Nobis
If all criteria for the writ of Coram Nobis have been met, and the writ has been filed, the defendant must now consider the conditions to receive post-custody relief from a higher Court:
- The complaint must be an error of fact that is distinguished from law
- The error must only be known to the defendant and his counsel post-trial, not at the time of the trial
- It must not be an error that was reasonably ascertainable by the defendant or his attorney
- The trial court or jury must not have known about the error and the error must not appear on the record
- The error must be one of which has the potential to have produced a different outcome of judgment
- The writ of Coram Nobis must be the only remedy left to correct the error