The Habeas Process

Habeas Petitions in Texas Courts

This information is for habeas petitions based upon a state court conviction that resulted in a prison sentence. The rules are slightly different for convictions that resulted in community supervision.

Once a petition is filed in the trial court, the court will usually do one of three things:

(1) Order the parties to gather additional evidence;

(2) Order a hearing so that the court itself can heard additional evidence; or 

(3) Issue its findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the pleadings already filed.

After evaluating the evidence before it, the trial court will issue Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. In this legal document, the trial court will discuss its view of the evidence and what it thinks should be the ultimate decision in the case.

The trial court will then send the case and its recommendations directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal Appeals usually will either:

(1) Send the case back to the trial court for it to gather additional evidence; 

(2) Agree with the trial court's recommendations; or

(3) Disagree with the trial court's recommendations.

What happens with a conviction if it is vacated in habeas depends on what the evidence established and how the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled. Usually, however, if a person's conviction is vacated in habeas, then he will be returned to square one. This means he may have to go to trial all over again.

Habeas Petitions in Federal Courts

The habeas process in federal courts also begins with the federal district court. The procedure employed by the courts, however, may differ. Some federal district judges may send the case to a federal magistrate judge. The magistrate court will review the case documents and issue recommendations to the district court, which that court can either accept or reject. Other district court's may directly rule on the case without the benefit of a magistrate's recommendations.

After the federal district court rules on the case, the losing party may try to appeal the case to the circuit court with jurisdiction over the district court. In Texas, appeals from a federal district court go to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.