Most writs require advanced legal knowledge and involve detailed procedures. Defendants who want to apply for a writ should consult a criminal defense attorney.

A court writ is a higher court order directing a lower court or government official to take action. In any criminal case, a defendant may file an appeal with the next higher appellate body one time. However, they can file multiple court writs.

Defendants may seek several types of writs from appellate judges. The higher court, such as the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, directs signed writs to the trial or lower appellate court.

This article covers federal and state court writs and explains the extraordinary remedies they can provide.

Federal and State Court Writs

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explicitly abolished certain types of writs. They now offer most forms of relief through either a lawsuit or motion. However, some court writs are still available in federal courts, including:

  • Writs of certiorari - Permit the review of cases
  • Habeas corpus petition - Challenge a prisoner's detention
  • Writs of prohibition or injunctions - Compel or forbid actions
  • Writs of error conam nobis - Set aside a conviction

State attitudes toward writs vary greatly. Some states follow the federal courts' lead, while others still permit court writs.

Writs available in state courts include:

  • Writs of attachment - Permit the seizure of a person or property;
  • Writs of capias - Arrest warrant
  • Writs of fieri facias -Commands seizure and auction of property to pay a debt
  • Writs of venire facias - Summoning jurors to appear in court

It can be hard to keep the different types of writs straight. Part of this is due to the language used to describe them. Many of the writ titles retain old-fashioned Latin verbiage. Your criminal law attorney is familiar with writs and understands when to file a petition for each.

An Extraordinary Remedy

Courts view writs as extraordinary remedies. They only permit them when a criminal defendant has no other adequate remedy, such as an appeal. A defendant may seek a writ to contest an issue they couldn't raise in a regular appeal.

This action generally applies when the alleged error or mistake is not apparent in the case record. For example, a defendant may complain of prosecutorial misconduct or ineffective assistance of counsel. A writ is appropriate here rather than a direct appeal or requesting a new trial.

Generally, courts will adjudicate writs more quickly than regular appeals. If a defendant feels wronged by the trial judge's actions, they may need to seek a writ to obtain an early review by a higher court.

Some of the most common grounds for seeking a writ include:

  • The defense failed to make a timely objection at the time of the alleged error or injustice
  • Immediate relief is necessary to prevent further injustice or unnecessary expense and the trial judge has not yet issued a final judgment
  • Urgent relief is necessary as it will not be available once the courts process the defendant's appeal
  • The defendant already lodged an unsuccessful criminal appeal and has no other recourse
  • An attorney failed to investigate a possible defense

Writs are only available in felony cases. Your criminal defense lawyer wouldn't file a writ for a misdemeanor case. For example, for a criminal conviction of a first-offense DUI, it is unlikely that you would request the court to issue a writ. Most writs revolve around a violation of a defendant's constitutional rights.

What Is the Difference Between a Writ and an Appeal?

It can be hard to distinguish between a writ and an appeal. This is because both request the court to reexamine the defendant's conviction and/or imprisonment. There are several significant differences between the two.

The critical aspects you should know about an appeal include the following:

  • direct appeal must involve the issues addressed at trial.
  • An appeal can only regard court documents and reports.
  • If it didn't happen in the initial trial, you cannot dispute it on appeal.
  • You can only raise issues that your attorney tried to preserve at trial. If your attorney didn't object to evidence or file a written complaint, they cannot raise it on appeal.
  • Defendants submit a written brief outlining the reasons for the appeal, and the judge bases their decision on that brief.

The results of an appeal include:

  • New trial
  • New sentencing hearing
  • Affirm the lower court's conviction
  • Overturn the lower court's conviction

Things work differently with a writ for habeas corpus. This is the most common type of writ filed with the U.S. Supreme Court and other high courts in the U.S. A writ for habeas corpus asks the court to do two things.

First, the writ asks the court to bring the defendant (prisoner) before the judge to argue their case. Second, the writ requests that the court provide valid reasons for why the defendant is in jail or prison in the first place.

When you file for a writ, you can ask the court to review all issues from the trial. They are not limited to items included in the court record. Your attorney can also introduce new information or evidence with a writ. Furthermore, you can contest issues regardless of whether your criminal lawyer preserved them at trial via an objection, motion, or written complaint.

The other main difference between a writ and an appeal is that you can only petition for a writ if you have exhausted all other remedies. If you still have the option of an appeal, the court will not approve your writ.

Want To Know if You Are Eligible for a Court Writ? An Attorney Can Help

Court writs can be challenging to understand and even more difficult to obtain. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can review your case and provide necessary legal advice.

Get in touch with an attorney near you today.

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