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California Habeas Handbook, 4th Edition

by Attorney Kent Russell, Sept. 2003, 67 pages plus appendix

Review by John E. Dannenberg

The completely revised 4th Edition
of the California Habeas Handbook, a self-help manual on the preparation of both California and federal habeas corpus petitions, guides pro per litigants in avoiding the pitfalls of procedural traps that can foreclose the unwary from ever gaining a collateral review of their convictions on the merits. PLN readers will recognize author Kent Russell from his quarterly column, Habeas Hints, which both teaches prisoners the basics of habeas litigation as well as alerts them to the most recent important court rulings. Earlier Habeas Hints are now integrated into the 4th Edition's text.

Russell points out that the Handbook is not intended to replace scholarly treatises on habeas corpus law. Nor does it address death penalty litigation. It is aimed at providing the state prisoner with thorough, easy to follow and up-to-date guidance on how, in the absence of an attorney, he can collaterally attack his conviction or sentence after he has lost his direct appeals. A recurring theme in the Handbook is the reference to AEDPA (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act) limitations, which have reshaped habeas litigation since 1996. If one only learns and heeds these warnings on how to avoid procedural default, he will have benefited from perhaps the Handbook's highest purpose.

The Handbook offers a procedural tour of how one's case will wend its way through state and federal courts. Next are sections explaining the principal barriers to succeeding in California and federal habeas corpus. Concise summaries explain exhaustion, statutes of limitation, tolling and appeals - complex topics the habeas litigant must grasp to succeed. The Handbook's comprehensive table of 130 specific habeas claims with controlling U.S. Supreme Court precedents has been updated - providing excellent entry points for researching each type of claim.

Appended to the 4th Edition are standard California and federal (28 U.S.C. § 2254) habeas forms including in forma pauperis applications, along with line by line tutorials on how to complete them. A sample traverse and notice of appeal are included, as is a guide for U.S. Supreme Court certiorari petitions. Russell cautions would-be pro per litigants to obtain and follow their local rules of court. Recognizing the small chance of successfully completing one's own habeas petition, Russell advises all who can afford counsel to do so - offering his services primarily in California's state and federal courts.

The book (soft cover) is available for $29 (incl. tax and mailing) from Kent A. Russell, "California Habeas Handbook," 2299 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94115. g

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