What is a Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis?

The writ of error coram nobis is a non-statutory common law remedy to challenging a court’s final judgment (i.e. vacate a judgment). The origins of the writ of error coram nobis date back to English common law when motions for new trials and appeals were unknown. The purpose of the writ is to provide a corrective remedy to a trial court conviction where no other remedy exists in which to secure relief.

According to common law, the writ is meant to, “secure relief, where no other remedy exists, from a judgment rendered while there existed some fact which would have prevented rendition if the trial court had known it and which, through no negligence or fault of the defendant, was not then known to the court.” (People v. Adamson (1949) 34 Cal. 2d 320, 326-27).

With the introduction of statutory new trial motions, the availability of direct appeal, the expansion of the scope of the writ of habeas corpus, and statutory motions to vacate convictions such as Penal Code section 1473.7 and Section 1016.5, the writ of error coram nobis is only used is rare instances and is “practically obsolete.” (People v. Lumbley (1937) 8 Cal. 2d 752).

The requirements for obtaining a writ of error coram nobis have developed overtime and, as the law stands today, three requirements must be met in order to obtain relief. (People v. Shipman (1965) 62 Cal. 2d 226, 230).

1. “Petitioner must ‘show that some fact existed which, without any fault or negligence on his part, was not presented to the court at the trial on the merits, and which would have prevented the rendition of the judgment.’” (Id., citing People v. Mendez, 28 Cal. 22d 686, 688).

2. Petitioner must also show that the ‘newly discovered evidence . . . [does not go] to the merits of issues tried; issues of fact, once adjudicated, even though incorrectly, cannot be reopened except on motion for new trial.” (Id.)

“This second requirement applies even though the evidence in question is not discovered until after the time for moving for a new trial has elapsed or the motion has been denied.” (People v. Shipman, supra, 62 Cal. 2d 230, citing People v. Reid (1924) 195 Cal. 249).

3. “Petitioner ‘must show that the facts upon which he relies were not known to him and could not in the exercise of due diligence have been discovered by him at any time substantially earlier than the time of his motion for the writ.” (People v. Shipman, supra, 62 Cal. 2d 230, citing People v. Shorts 32 Cal. 2d 502).

This remedy is used to correct errors of fact, not errors of law, and is unavailable if the petitioner has some other remedy at law. (People v. Kim (2009) 45 Cal. 4th 1078, 1093). Thus, the writ of error coram nobis serves a “limited and useful purposes” that will “correct errors of fact which could not be corrected in any other manner.” (Id. at page 1094).

Motion for Immigration Purposes

The decision in People v. Kim (2009) 45 Cal. 4th 1078, effectively diminished a petition for writ of error coram nobis as an avenue for defendant’s seeking relief from convictions based on a lack of knowledge regarding the impact the conviction would have on a defendant for immigration purposes.

In Kim, the defendant asserted, in relevant part, that the ground for judgment was based on a mistake of fact, in that no party was aware that the plea of guilty would cause his deportation, even without a sentence of one year in custody, because his conviction was his second conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. (Id. at 1102).

According to the Supreme Court of California, Kim’s alleged new facts “speak merely to the legal effect of his guilty plea and thus are not grounds for relief on coram nobis.” (Id.). “New facts that would merely have affected the willingness of a litigant to enter a plea, or would have encouraged or convinced him or her to make different strategic choices or seek a different disposition, are not facts that would have prevented rendition of judgment.” (Id. at 1103).

The Court in Kim determined that coram nobis relief, as defined in California jurisprudence, is not broad enough to cover remedies for those in defendant’s position, but that the Legislature remains free to enact further statutory remedies, which the Legislature did by enacting Penal Code section 1473.7.

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