If you have been convicted of a crime, and your direct appeal has been denied, you may feel like it is the end of the line, like you have no other way to fight it – especially if you feel the sentence was unfair or the trial had problems. But there may be a way to get relief, although it may take some hard work.

Under the law, federal and state defendants may have the opportunity to challenge their convictions or sentences by filing a petition for post-conviction relief. However, it is not wise to attempt to move forward without an attorney. When you hire a criminal defense lawyer to handle your case, you have a much better chance to have a better outcome.

Seeking post-conviction relief could reduce your sentence or completely do away with it, but you need someone who knows the ropes and knows how to handle a complex court system.

Post-Conviction Relief

Post-conviction relief is a legal process that is instituted when a person has gone to trial, their sentence has been finalized, and all direct appeals have been decided, but they believe that their verdict or sentence is unconstitutional or inappropriate. Most of the time it refers to the process of filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. This can be done in either state or federal court.

There are times when post-conviction relief is preferable to filing a direct appeal. When a person files an appeal to a higher court, it is typically because the defense holds the belief that the jury or judge did not interpret the facts or the law correctly. A person files a post-conviction relief motion when they believe that there were other problematic issues related to the plea or trial verdict. For instance, if the defense believes that there was improper handling or exclusion of the evidence, they are likely to file a direct appeal. However, if the defense believes that the defendant was coerced into entering a guilty plea for a crime, then they are more likely to choose post-conviction relief.

There are several types of post-conviction motions. Some of the more popular are:

  • Motion to vacate a verdict or sentence – This is usually entered due to a claim alleging that the defendant’s plea was made involuntarily, or the assistance of counsel was ineffective.
  • Motion to correct illegal sentences – This is usually entered when the defendant believes that their sentence exceeds the maximums set forth by law.
  • Petition for writ of habeas corpus – This is usually entered when a defendant is denied a constitutional right. 

When one of these motions is filed, there is usually an evidentiary hearing held to examine the merits of the claim. Denial of a motion for post-conviction relief may be appealed to a higher court. 

There is usually a one-year statute of limitation for these post-conviction relief claims. This means that the petition must be filed within 365 days (1 year) after the date of the final judgment of conviction. In many cases, the defendant is allowed 1 year from the date that the new evidence was discovered or the date that a new right is recognized by the Supreme Court.

Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

Habeas corpus is a Latin word that means “that you have the body.” It is a fundamental right of all Americans under the United States Constitution. It is designed to protect citizens against indefinite and unlawful imprisonment by the Government.

In the United States, courts can utilize the writ of habeas corpus to determine if a government has valid and lawful reason to detain a prisoner. The writ is used to bring a detainee, such as a mental patient who has been institutionalized, or just a regular inmate, before the court to explore the legality and validity of the person’s detention and imprisonment. 

Additionally, the writ of habeas corpus may also be used in extradition processes to examine aspects of that process such as the jurisdiction of the court and the amount of bail.

Essentially, the writ of habeas corpus is designed to test the grounds for detention and restraint. It prompts inquiry into the case and acts as a safeguard against illegal imprisonment. It requires the law enforcement authorities responsible to provide valid and legal reasons for the detention. It is meant to test jurisdictional defects that have the potential to invalidate the legal authority to detain a person. 

A habeas corpus petition may be filed in any court in the United States. The defendant can also file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus if they have been detained but have not been allowed to go before the magistrate within 24-72 hours after their arrest.

Post-Conviction Relief and Federal Law

State prisoners who are seeking post-conviction relief in federal district court start the process by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus per 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

The federal court has the ability to grant relief (i.e., declaring that a state’s conviction was unconstitutional) if the person’s conviction violates a “clearly established Federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” or it could do so “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts” that were presented at the defendant’s state trial.

If relief is denied by the federal district court, then the defendant may have the right to appeal the court’s denial. However, they can only appeal if the court grants them a “certificate of appealability.”

This certificate allows the defendant to appeal the relief denial. If they are not granted the certificate of appealability, they do have the option to request that the federal court of appeals grant them one. If this does not occur, then the defendant will not have any further right to appeal.

Federal prisoners begin the post-conviction relief process by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus per 28 U.S.C. § 2255. This process puts the decision for the relief appeal back in front of the same federal district judge who presided over the person’s trial. That judge is then able to deny or grant relief as well as determine whether or not they will hold an evidentiary hearing on the petition.

Issues a Prisoner May Bring Before the Court for Post-Conviction Relief

There are several issues that a prisoner could raise when seeking post-conviction relief.

One of the most common is “ineffective assistance of counsel.” In simple terms, this means that their trial lawyer failed them by not providing a reasonably competent defense. That failure resulted in an outcome that was worse than the outcome a more competent lawyer would have been likely to produce.

Filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus for post-conviction relief may also be based on arguments arising from the evidence that are newly discovered and show the defendant’s actual innocence. It could also be based on new case law or new Supreme Court rulings that changed the law on which elements of the trial were based or law that was in effect during the trial or direct appeal.

Post-Conviction Relief and New York Law

There are four types of post-conviction relief options that defendants may pursue under New York law:

  • Direct appeal – Intends to reverse a conviction, arguing that there were factual or legal errors made during the plea or trial that are clear from the record and affected the outcome of the case.
  • CPL 440 motion – Intends to reverse a conviction based on facts that are not in the transcripts, thus “off the record.”
  • Error Coram Nobis petition – Intends to gain permission for the defendant to file a second direct appeal based on the claim that the lawyer who represented them did not in that initial appeal include meritorious arguments.
  • Federal habeas petition – Intends to reverse a conviction based on the defendant’s federal rights, typically constitutional rights, claiming that they were violated by a state court.

Post-Padilla post-conviction relief is also included under New York state law. When a person who is not a U.S. citizen is arrested in the U.S, convicted, and that conviction impacts their immigration status, they can file this type of post-conviction relief request claiming that they were not aware of the immigration consequences they would incur when they chose to enter a guilty plea to the offense. This claim can also be part of a motion for ineffective assistance of counsel.

A Certificate of Relief from Disabilities is another way that a person can get post-conviction relief. Many times, a conviction has consequences that extend beyond the sentence. This means that because of a conviction a defendant may not be eligible for public housing, certain jobs, and certain licenses. A Certificate of Relief from Disabilities may help to shield them from some of these consequences.

Sealing criminal records is yet another post-conviction relief that can be filed under New York law. Essentially, the criminal conviction of a person is sealed, which means the public does not have access to the criminal record. A person who has been convicted of one felony and one misdemeanor, or two misdemeanors (no more than two convictions and only one can be a felony) may qualify for post-conviction relief to seal their conviction. It is important to note that this does not expunge the conviction, only that it is inaccessible to the public. This means many prospective employers and agencies will be prevented from accessing the information or records that are related to the conviction. This can be a game-changer for the defendant when they reenter society and begin rebuilding their life.

If you are considering filing for post-conviction relief, you need an attorney who knows the ropes and can get you the best possible outcome in your case.

Don’t wait to see what happens. Don’t try to do it on your own. Let the professionals handle your case and help you make sure that your rights are protected.

The Litvak Law Firm is ready to help you no matter what stage of the game you’re in. Mr. Litvak has the experience and knowledge to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

You deserve professional legal representation. Call us today at (718) 989-2908.