How Coram Nobis Can Help a Felon

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Once the verdict is in and the sentence handed down, the time for carrying out the sentence is at hand.

After serving their time, felons can go on with their lives.  Nothing can change the past.  It is a new beginning.

Foe felons who believe that serious errors were made in their trial resulting in conviction, there may be an option to turn back the clock.

This blog post will cover the issue of how coram nobis can help a felon.

  • Arraignment and Indictment
  • Trial and Conviction
  • What is Coram Nobis?
  • Use of Coram Nobis
  • How to Petition with the Writ of Coram Nobis
  • Supporting a Felon After the Coram Nobis Decision

Arraignment and Indictment

A felony indictment is in the form of a document to inform the person of the legal charges against them.  The indictment is usually read before a judge at a hearing, which is sometimes called an arraignment.

The formal arraignment does not take place, however, until the accused has been arrested and formally charged.

A person is entitled not to be prosecuted until a Grand Jury has determined that there is enough evidence to support criminal prosecution.

This is guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment which states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment of a Grand Jury…”

While in many states a Grand Jury is common in charging a federal crime, others do not use them often.

Those states present the criminal complaint to a lower court judge or magistrate to decide if the prosecutor has presented enough evidence that the accused has committed a crime.

Trial and Conviction

Once each of these steps has been completed, the trial will commence.  The prosecutor will present the evidence that has been accumulated and call any witnesses.

The defense attorney will examine the evidence and listen to witnesses’ testimony and cross examine them regarding what they have said in their testimony.

After that, closing remarks will be made by both the prosecution and defense attorney.

Then the jury will be asked to weigh the evidence and testimony they have heard in reaching a verdict.

After reaching a decision in the case, the verdict (judgment) will be read aloud by the judge.

If the defendant is acquitted, the case is closed.  However, if the defendant is convicted, they will be held for sentencing.

After the conviction, the defendant is held in custody to begin serving their sentence.  Once the sentence has been completed, felons are released to complete the terms of their probation.

Typically, this signals the start of felons’ re-entry to society.

In a few cases, there may have been an error made in establishing the original conviction.  This is when coram nobis can come into play.

What Is Coram Nobis?

Coram nobis is the name of a legal order which gives the court the power to correct an original judgment from the court.

This occurs when a fundamental error is discovered that was not in the records of that first judgment.  Not only is it an error, but that error must have prevented acquittal from being granted.

The error must have resulted from the defendant’s not having presented a valid defense as a result of fraud, duress, or neglect.

The following conditions must be met to consider coram nobis:

  • The petition must seek to vacate a federal crime conviction. This writ is not available in federal courts to attack a state judgment.  It is also not eligible in civil cases.
  • The petition must be sent to the sentencing court.
  • The writ must be filed after the sentence has been served and the felon is no longer on probation.
  • The petition must clearly demonstrate valid reasons for not questioning the judgment earlier. A delay may be considered reasonable when the applicable law was recently changed and made retroactive.  New evidence is discovered that couldn’t be found earlier.  Also, this is the case when the felon was incorrectly advised by their attorney not to pursue habeas corpus, which is the right to know the charges for which a person is being held.
  • The writ must demonstrate adverse consequences as a result of the conviction. The petitioner must show that the conviction produced collateral consequences beyond those typically resulting from any conviction.  These include not being able to obtain a professional license, having to register as a sex offender, or being deported.
  • The writ is used to correct the most fundamental errors, resulting in “a complete miscarriage of justice.” This means an innocent individual was wrongfully convicted.
  • A constitutional right has been violated, such as the Fourteenth Amendment relating to due process or the Sixth Amendment regarding the right of effective assistance of counsel.

A conviction can be vacated and a new trial held if there is insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction, new evidence not available at the original trial, erroneous instruction to the jury, or comments that prejudiced the jury at the first trial.

If the new evidence was not introduced due to a failure by the accused’s defense, coram nobis will not apply.

Use of Coram Nobis

The writ of coram nobis began usage in the U.S. in 1789 with the passage of Judiciary Act of 1789, allowing U.S. courts to pass writs to recognize errors and correct them for post-conviction judgments.

The writ of coram nobis is currently available in only 13 states and the District of Columbia.  These states are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In all other states, uniform post-conviction acts have been adopted to provide relief from conviction judgments.

How to Petition with the Writ of Coram Nobis

A Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis must be filed in the court where the case was originally heard.

The State has 30 days to respond to the petition.  Then it is assigned to a judge who may schedule a hearing or may respond to the petition on their own.

If the petition is denied, an appeal can be made to have the Writ heard in the Circuit Court with or without a hearing.  If the appeal is denied, the original judgment will stand.

If the petition is approved, a re-trial for the felon on the original charges can be scheduled.

Supporting a Felon after the Petition Decision

This is a crucial time for the defendant and his family.

This represents the time when the family can come together to offer their support to their loved one as they face the decision regarding the petition for the writ of coram nobis.

Encourage them to face the decision head on and beginning the road back to redemption.  Let them know you are with them throughout the days ahead whether the petition is approved or not.

Even if the petition is denied, they can succeed in living an honest life.

So what do you think about this blog post about how coram nobis can help a felon?  What is your experience with coram nobis?   Please tell us in the comments below.

About the author

After earning his MBA from Benedictine University, Ron was looking for a new challenge and stumbled on the idea of helping the formerly incarcerated.

Using what he learned, Ron developed this website as a free resource and has worked with his team​ to continue answering questions for those in need.

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