Federal habeas corpus allows you to go into Federal court with a claim that your constitutional rights were violated. You can’t make any claims about state law; only rights protected under the United States Constitution apply. For example, you can’t argue that your sentence was too long or that the judge violated a state statute or rule.
The two things you need to know about habeas corpus relief is that it is expensive, and is rarely successful.
It’s expensive because there’s a lot of work involved. Not only do I have to review every pleading that was filed in the trial and appellate courts and every word of every transcript, I have to research a body of law particular to your case that is exceedingly complex. I may have to supplement the record with other materials, and there may even be an evidentiary hearing.
The reason it’s rarely successful is because of a law Congress passed in 1996. That law placed a number of hurdles in the way of habeas relief:
- You have to have presented the issue as a Federal constitutional issue throughout the case: in the pleadings in the trial court, and in the briefs in the appellate courts.
- You have to “exhaust your state remedies.” That means that any issue presented to the Federal court had to have been presented to the highest court in the state. If you presented the issue to the Ohio Supreme Court and it didn’t agree to hear your case, you’re fine. If you didn’t appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, you’re out of luck.
- The Federal court must almost always accept the factual findings of the state courts.
- You have to show that the state courts violated clearly established Federal law, as defined by decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
- You don’t get an automatic right to appeal a decision by the district court judge denying your habeas petition; either the district court of the court of appeals has to issue a “certificate of appealability,” stating that your petition has sufficient merit to warrant further action.
The petition is filed in the district court for the district where you were convicted or are currently imprisoned. The matter will usually be referred to a magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge rules against you, you can’t immediately appeal; you have to file objections with the district court judge.
I’ve handled habeas cases before, and I’ll be happy to take a look at your case and see if it has potential merit.