A writ of coram nobis is a legal remedy in a court of law that petitions the court to vacate a judgment as a result of a factual error or omission. For purposes of vacating a conviction in a writ of error coram nobis, the error or omission is not considered as one of the immigration consequences of a plea. A writ of error coram nobis is often the last resort used to reopen a case for fundamental errors of fact or law. For instance, where on the account of duress, fraud, or other fact overreaching the free will and judgment of a defendant where he or she is deprived of the right of a trial on the merits, the court in which he or she was sentenced may after judgment and after the time for appeal has passed, and if a coram nobis motion is seasonably made, the court may grant him or her the privilege of withdrawing his or her guilty plea.

In order to vacate a conviction with a writ of coram nobis the defendant has to show that at the time of the plea, he or she was unaware of the possible immigration consequences of his or her plea, that he or she would not have pled guilty or nolo contendere had he or she known of the possibility of deportation or other immigration consequences, and that his or her motion was brought with reasonable diligence upon discovery of true facts. It is important to note that this exceptional remedy applies only to a strong and convincing showing of the deprivation of legal rights by extrinsic causes.

Motion to Vacate Judgment

Motions to vacate the judgment are not limited to motions that could also be writs of error coram nobis. For immigrant defendants or non-citizens, they can bring a related motion called a Penal Code Section 1016.5 if the immigrant defendant was not advised of immigration consequences and is now suffering consequences in immigration court.

Three Part Test for a writ of Coram Nobis to Stand

Courts have held that the writ of error coram nobis should issue only under circumstances compelling such action to achieve justice. The courts have held that there is a three-part test to determine if a petitioner can obtain relief by filing a writ of error coram nobis. But even passing the three-part test doesn’t clear a petitioner’s path to relief under the writ. The court has discretion over the decision to grant or deny the writ.

What Is A Writ Of Coram Nobis

A writ of coram nobis is a motion to vacate a judgment. A petition for a writ of error coram nobis may lie after the time for a new trial motion or a motion to withdraw the plea, or an appeal has lapsed.

A writ of coram nobis is generally used to bring factual errors or omissions to the court’s attention. A petition for writ of error coram nobis is equivalent to a motion to vacate the judgment, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

The writ will properly issue only when the petitioner can establish three elements:

  • 1
    That some fact existed which, without his fault or negligence, was not represented to the court at the trial and which would have prevented the rendition of judgment;
  • 2
    That the new evidence does not go to the merits of the issues of fact determined at trial; and
  • 3
    That he did not know nor could he have, with due diligence, discovered the facts upon which he relies any sooner than the point at which he petitions the writ

A writ of coram nobis permits the court which rendered a judgment to reconsider it and give the defendant relief from errors of fact. Case law has held that the writ will properly issue only when the petitioner can establish the three above-mentioned elements.

Three Part Test for a writ of Coram Nobis to Stand

An element required to file a habeas corpus motion is that the defendant is in physical or constructive custody for the court to have jurisdiction to hear a habeas corpus motion. With a writ of error coram nobis there is no custody requirement as long as the other above-mentioned elements are present. For example under California Penal Code Section 1473.6, a person who is no longer in custody or restrained can, in specified circumstances, prosecute a motion to vacate a judgment that was obtained by government fraud or misconduct. This is intended to address the issue when habeas corpus relief is not available to those whose sentence is served before that misconduct comes to light.

Often when there is no custody element of a petitioner the only remaining form of relief is to file a writ of error coram nobis. This is so because case law in California has required that in order for a habeas corpus motion to be properly filed the court must have jurisdiction over the petition. This type of jurisdiction often means custody or probationary custody.

Another Chance At Justice

Another Chance At Justice

A writ of coram nobis provides a means where an erroneous judgment as to a vital issue of fact could be set aside. As adopted and employed by the courts of California, the common law features of the writ have been substantially modified in light of such statutory remedies as the motion for a new trial and the right to appeal. Although hedged about with a daunting array of substantive and procedural restrictions, coram nobis is the only means available in a limited category of situations for mounting a collateral attack on a final judgment. For a party who discovers new evidence concerning a faet that existed at the time of trial which-without any sloth or negligence by the party-could not have been brought to the court’s attention at any earlier time and that completely undermines the opponent’s case without contradicting any factual issue adjudicated at trial, coram nobis may be the remedy of last resort and the only way to spell relief. For years, people who sought to challenge the legal validity of a conviction but were no longer in criminal custody turned to a writ of coram nobis. In 2009, however, the California Supreme Court held that claims of ineffective assistance of counsel could not be raised in coram nobis petitions. See People v. Kim, 45 Cal. 4th 1078 (2009).

Actual Innocence