Habeas Corpus

Section 1, Fall 15

Schedule Information

Enrollment: 6/11
Credits: 3

Course Description

What is habeas corpus and why has it earned the title of the “Great Writ”? Habeas corpus allows prisoners to challenge their detentions and it empowers judges to free prisoners that are unlawfully detained. The writ reaches the most unpopular prisoners: enemies of the state, war criminals, and those convicted of the most heinous crimes. Due to its historic role as the last resort for prisoners to obtain judicial review, the U.S. Supreme Court has called the Great Writ one that is “indispensable” and one that “indisputably holds and honored position in our jurisprudence.” Thus, prisoner litigation is the subject of this course, and in particular, the rights and remedies available to prisoners who seek to challenge their detention. We will begin with an examination of the writ of habeas corpus, under which federal courts examine whether detentions are authorized. We will explore the historical evolution of the writ from a common law prerogative writ to the U.S. federal system and the meaning of the enigmatic Suspension Clause of the U.S. Constitution. We will then focus on habeas litigation by state prisoners convicted of crimes. We will study the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and how it intersects with the key Supreme Court decisions that define the limits and procedures for habeas corpus, including through the doctrines of exhaustion, procedural default, non-retroactivity, and miscarriage of justice innocence “gateway” claims. In the second part of the course, we will examine the Suspension Clause and how Article III of the Constitution shapes the power of judges to use habeas corpus. We will explore the use of habeas corpus to remedy unlawful executive detention, including immigration detention, military detention, and national security detention. We will study recent statutes and Supreme Court decisions relating to persons indefinitely detained or facing military commission trials post-9/11. We will conclude by studying the intersection of habeas corpus and civil litigation, and with a broader look at the future of habeas corpus. This course may appeal to those hoping to clerk for a judge or to those considering practice criminal law as a prosecutor or criminal defense lawyer, but it is broadly of interest to those concerned with issues of criminal justice.

Course Requirements

Exam Info:
Midterm Type (if any):
Description: None

Final Type (if any):

Written Work Product
Written Work Product:

Other Work
Flex examination at end of the semester.

Other Course Details
Prerequisites: None Concurrencies: None
Mutually Exclusive With:
Laptops Allowed: No
First Day Attendance Required: No
Course Notes:

Graduation Requirements

*Satisfies Writing Requirement: No
**Credits For Prof. Skills Requirement: No
Satisfies Professional Ethics: No

*Yes means professor requires everyone in the course to submit a substantial research paper (which is the requirement standard in Academic Policies), so no paperwork required to be submitted to SRO. No means student must timely submit paperwork to SRO if intending to use a paper in this course to satisfy the Writing Requirement.

**Yes indicates course credits count towards UVA Law’s Prof. Skills graduation requirement, not necessarily a skills requirements for any particular state bar.

General Information

Schedule No.
Law No.
Modified Type
Cross Listed: No
Cross-Listed Course Mnemonic:
Public Syllabus Link: None
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Evaluation Portal Via LawWeb Closes: