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Welcome to the Habeas Handbook Blog

By January 16, 2022February 4th, 2022Habeas Handbook

by Attys. Kent Russell & Tara Hoveland

Welcome to the Habeas Handbook Blog. It is a natural extension of our print publication, California Habeas Handbook 2.0. The print publication explains in detail how to prepare, file, defend, and litigate state and federal habeas corpus petitions in the wake of “AEDPA” – the groundbreaking habeas corpus law that took effect in April of 1996, and which governs contemporary habeas corpus practice in California and throughout the United States. It is our hope to share this valuable information with you and your families through this blog. The following is an introduction to the California Habeas Handbook 2.0. We intend to regularly update this blog with useful information about state and federal habeas corpus. Enjoy!

California Habeas Handbook 2.0

A Practical guide to State and Federal Habeas Corpus under “AEDPA”

  • Designed for pro-se prisoners, and attorneys new to habeas corpus.
  • Completely revised, upgraded, and updated in 2017.
  • California portions keyed to the latest California Rules of Court.
  • New recommendations and analysis based on the most recent Supreme Court cases.
  • New Sections on Discovery, Stay & Abeyance, Certiorari, and more.
  • Analysis of 2017 amendment to Cal. Pen. Code § 1473, lowering the standard for habeas relief based on “newly discovered evidence”.
  • New tutorial on recent CA propositions permitting post-conviction release: Prop. 36, Prop. 47, SB 260-261, SB 9, Prop. 57, Prop 64.
  • Optional CD-Rom: “Best of Russell”: Complete Copies of the Best Russell Documents Covering Every Phase of Habeas Law.
  • Latest “Habeas Hints” Columns: “SCOTUS Review 2016-17″, “IAC 2018″.
  • Brand new, comprehensive chapter: “Parole for California Prisoners” (written by Susan L. Jordan, Attorney at Law).
California Habeas Handbook 2.0

Although the American justice system guarantees all criminal defendants a right to appointed counsel at state expense for trial and, if necessary, on their first (“direct”) appeal, there is no right to appointed counsel for habeas corpus until and unless the prisoner can, on his own, convince a state or federal court to grant an evidentiary hearing – something that is very hard to do and happens only in few cases. Therefore, a primary purpose of the California Habeas Handbook is to provide prisoners who don’t have the money to hire private counsel with a one-stop resource – written in plain English rather than in legalese –  that will enable them to (1) avoid the numerous procedural pitfalls that will prevent them from ever getting heard on the merits; and (2) sufficiently understand habeas corpus procedure in general and AEDPA in particular to give them a fighting chance of getting a court to grant them that elusive evidentiary hearing which is the gateway to getting a reversal or sentence reduction on habeas corpus.

Additionally, because the California Habeas Handbook is loaded with references to current statutes and the latest case law, this book will also prove extremely useful to attorneys who are knowledgeable in other areas of the law but who lack experience with habeas corpus.

New in Edition 2.0

The California Habeas Handbook 2.0 is the culmination of two decades of development that began with my first edition of the California Habeas Handbook, which was hurriedly published just as AEDPA took effect in 1996, in an effort to wake up prisoners to the need to file a habeas corpus petition before the AEDPA one-year statute of limitations ran. Since then, I’ve had a chance to enlarge and enhance the scope and breadth of the book considerably over the years, with the last revision being the 6th Edition, which was released in 2015-16. In these previous editions I have done the best I could to present the essentials of habeas corpus law while tracking the latest developments in the most important habeas cases.

Nevertheless, all previous editions of the California Habeas Handbook were limited to state and federal habeas corpus, and did not cover parole for prisoners serving life sentences or any other post-conviction remedies. That approach made sense until recently because, with the public and its representatives single-mindedly focused on putting more people away for longer and longer sentences rather than on sensibly reducing the prison population, habeas corpus was really the only game in town available to obtain a sentence reduction. In the last couple of years, however, it has become clear that the public no longer has the will or the means to sustain the staggering social and financial costs of using precious tax dollars to pay for a surging and aging prison population without any corresponding effort to reduce that burden through rehabilitation and release of prisoners who were no longer a danger to themselves or anyone else. Therefore, bipartisan reform measures focused on emptying the prisons rather than on building more of them – common-sense solutions which nevertheless were non-starters during the heyday of the “war on drugs” and the “three-strikes” craze of the past several decades – have finally brought the public around to the need to cut down on prohibitively expensive incarceration and start thinking seriously about less costly and more socially beneficial alternatives.

As a result, through legislation, ballot initiatives, and with the blessing of the Governor’s office, California has finally gotten around to enacting reform measures allowing for the selective release of non-dangerous inmates. At the same time, court opinions requiring that parole be considered for prisoners who have shown themselves to be fully rehabilitated from their past crimes, however heinous those original offenses may have been, has made release on parole a realistic alternative rather than just a pipe-dream for prisoners facing indeterminate, life sentences.

In short, the confluence of all of these developments has finally brought us into an era in which habeas corpus is only one of a number of viable approaches to sentence reduction and release from prison. Thus, as we move into the second half of the 20-teens, parole and other post-conviction remedies now have to be considered and employed as alternatives to traditional habeas corpus. With this principle in mind, California Habeas Handbook 2.0 now contains two new chapters which focus on these other alternatives in addition to fulfilling the original mission of this book, which is to cover habeas corpus “from cradle to grave”. Specifically, Chapter 9 is a primer on the recent California propositions which enhance the opportunities for reduction of sentences and early release; and Chapter 10, written by parole expert Susan Jordan, takes you through the Parole process in California from beginning to end.

Moreover, California Habeas Handbook 2.0 now contains a special section, “Tara Time”, written by my superbly talented associate Tara Hoveland, which summarizes the key new developments in habeas corpus law.

Finally, the increasing availability of technology in the prisons has made it possible for prisoners to have access to CD-roms (and blogs!) which can contain hundreds of pages of valuable information that was formerly impractical to provide in traditional printed form. Accordingly, although California Habeas Handbook 2.0 continues to provide an Appendix including official forms and short excerpts from Russell and Russell documents that can be used as models for documents to be drafted by prisoners, I am also offering as an option to the standard printed Appendix, a CD-rom entitled “Best of Russell”, which contains complete copies of key documents filed by Russell and Russell in all phases of state and federal habeas corpus litigation.