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What is a Federal Writ of Errors Coram Nobis?

June 17, 2019

Coram Nobis is a Latin word that means ‘the errors before us’ in English. The Writ of Coram Nobis is available to petitioners to a United States Federal District Court when an error not presented at trial could have resulted in a different outcome in the case.

Differences Between Writ of Coram Nobis and Writ of Habeas Corpus

A Coram Nobis writ is different from a petition of Habeas Corpus in that it is not necessary for the petitioner to be in custody. Although to some it may seem like a fruitless endeavor to have a conviction vacated after already serving a jail sentence, there are definite benefits to having one’s name cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Another difference between the two writs lies in the Statutes of Limitations. The Act of Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty mandates that a one-year time limit be placed on Habeas Corpus writs following the end of direct appeals. There is no time limit connected to a writ of Coram Nobis.

A Coram Nobis Writ is under the statutory authority of the All Writs Act. Writs under the All Writs Act are not considered by the court to be a source of jurisdiction on a given subject matter on its own. The writ must be proven necessary to influence potential jurisdiction. The strict conditions for filing Coram Nobis writs makes them rare to see in the federal court system.

Criteria for Filing Writ of Coram Nobis in Federal Court System

The following criteria is a must to allow a writ of Coram Nobis to be filed:

Coram Nobis Writ Is Intended To Vacate A Conviction In A Federal Court

Writs of Coram Nobis is not available to petitioners who wish to have a state court decision vacated. There are post-incarceration remedies available at the state level for individuals who need them.

Writ Must Be Addressed To Sentencing Court

A writ of Coram Nobis can only be filed with the court that sentenced the petitioner.

Must Be Filed While Petitioner Not Incarcerated

A writ of Coram Nobis will be dismissed or converted to a petition of Habeas Corpus if it is filed while the petitioner is incarcerated. It is important to understand that a Habeas Corpus petition involves state remedy exhaustion and time limits for filing.

Reasons Must Be Given For Not Previously Addressing Situation

The petitioner must justify to the court why a remedy for the conviction was not sought earlier. Possible justifications include the availability of new evidence or a law change that would have affected the previous outcome.

Must Demonstrate The Conviction Has Caused Adverse Consequences

The petitioner must demonstrate that he or she is still being negatively affected by the conviction. Some consequences that might be cited include the inability to maintain a professional license, the threat of deportation, and a requirement of sex offender registration.

Must Address A Fundamental Error

The cited error must have resulted in justice not being served in the case.

Filing A Writ Of Coram Nobis

The first step to seeking post-conviction relief through a Coram Nobis writ is to secure all relevant conviction records. All fundamental and procedural errors that exist in the conviction records need to be identified.

The defendant in the case must file a motion and not a completely separate petition. This is another aspect of this writ that differs from a Habeas Corpus writ. An affidavit of errors is required to show that it is reasonable to conclude that the errors led to an incorrect decision.

One important distinction to keep in mind is that errors of fact included in court records will not be considered for the purposes of a Coram Nobis writ. Only factual errors found after the conviction will be considered by the court.

Writ of Coram Nobis Appeals Process

Once the criteria are met for a Writ of Coram Nobis and the filing is complete, it is time to consider the conditions necessary to receive post-conviction relief.

  • Error of fact identified in writ must be distinguished from law
  • Error must become known to defendant and council after the trial that resulted in the conviction
  • Error must something that could be easily ascertained by the defendant or his attorney
  • The error must not be present in court records and the judge nor the jury in the case could have known about the error
  • The error must prove capbable of altering the court’s decision
  • No other remedy but a Coram Nobis writ can be available



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