What Is a Personal Restraint Petition?

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A defendant's court battle doesn't necessarily end with her conviction and appeal. She can challenge the conviction by filing a personal restraint petition in the state appellate court or a habeas corpus petition in federal court. Both of these are broader remedies than an appeal and are often used in criminal cases by a defendant whose conviction was obtained unconstitutionally, or where new evidence has emerged to show innocence.

What Is a Post-Conviction Petition?

The classic manner of revisiting the legal issues of a criminal trial is by way of an appeal to a higher court. A post-conviction petition refers to any of several other options that a defendant can use to challenge a criminal conviction.

In Washington state, post-conviction petitions include filing a personal restraint petition in the Washington Court of Appeals or in the state supreme court. The defendant can also challenge a state court conviction by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court.

What Is Habeas Corpus?

Habeas corpus is Latin for the phrase: You have the body. In the United States, federal courts determine in a habeas corpus proceeding whether a person's imprisonment or detention is unlawful.

Habeas corpus originated in 1215 through the 39th clause of the Magna Carta which provided, "No man shall be arrested or imprisoned...except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land."

Habeas corpus was adopted in the U.S. and used to free defendants who were imprisoned without sufficient cause. A state prisoner can file a writ of habeas corpus, asking the court to determine if his detention is valid. A habeas petition proceeds as a civil action against the state agent who holds the defendant in custody

Read More: How to File a Family Law Habeas Corpus Petition

How Does PRP Differ From Habeas Corpus?

Writs of habeas corpus can only be filed in federal courts. A personal restraint petition is a type of habeas corpus permitted in some state courts, like Washington state.

How Is PRP Different From an Appeal?

An appeal is a review of a lower court action by a higher court. The appellate court can only consider information that was presented to the lower court, and, in that way, is restricted to the trial court record.

In a personal restraint petition, the prisoner has the right to present new evidence, evidence that was never presented to the trial court. One common claim a prisoner makes in a PRP is that his defense attorney did not do a good job and failed to offer the court all of the evidence in his favor. Evidence of ineffective counsel can't be raised on appeal since it was not in the record from the trial court. In a PRP, the prisoner can present the evidence that the lawyer should have used at trial.

The procedures that a prisoner must follow in a PRP are also different from those on appeal and can be barriers to seeking this type of relief. For example, a significant procedural barrier is the deadline for filing a petition. A Washington prisoner usually must prepare and file the petition within a year from the date his conviction is final.

What Are Grounds for Granting a PRP?

Since granting a defendant’s personal restraint petition constitutes extraordinary relief under Washington law, the defendant must meet a high standard. In all PRP cases, the defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that an error has been committed.

When a defendant claims that a constitutional error was committed at the state level, she has to prove that the error caused actual and substantial prejudice. If the defendant claims that an error that was not constitutional in nature occurred, she must prove that the error caused a total miscarriage of justice.