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Habeas Corpus - Federal Review of State Prisoner Petitions

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 1984
This report presents aggregate data describing rates, trends, and comparisons of State prisoner habeas corpus filings in Federal district and appellate courts, along with a summary of a Department of Justice (DOJ) study which analyzed the success rate and frequency of such filings, time intervals between filings, and the potential impact of a statute of limitations.

State prisoner habeas corpus filings have risen almost 700 percent in the past 20 years. While filings peaked in l970 and leveled off in the mid-l970's, the leveling-off trend has reversed in the last 5 years. District courts in 4 of the ll circuits, the 4th, 5th, 9th, and llth, handled a substantially greater number of habeas corpus petitions between l969 and l982. State prisoner habeas corpus petitions represented about 4 percent of total civil cases filed in Federal district courts during l982. The report also provides data on filing as a percent of prisoner population, district court terminations of State prisoner habeas corpus actions, use of magistrates, appellate review, and appeal termination. The l979 DOJ study reviewed all State prisoner habeas corpus actions filed between July l, l975, and June 30, l977, or l,899 petitions, in 6 Federal courts and l court of appeals. It found that 3.2 percent of the petitions were granted in whole or in part, and only l.8 percent resulted in any type of release of the petitioner. Successful habeas corpus claims in most cases do not produce a prisoner's release, but rather a requirement for further judicial review. In addition, a substantial component of the habeas corpus workload at both State and Federal levels appears to result from successive filings by the same petitioners. The study found that almost 45 percent of the cases filed were referred to a magistrate for review, and that magistrates recommended that 90 percent of these petitions be denied. While the average interval between State conviction and Federal habeas corpus filing was 2.9 years, substantial variation existed among districts and almost a third of the petitions were filed more than l0 years after conviction. Tables, graphs, and 26 footnotes are supplied.

Date Published: March 1, 1984